Isle officials tout safety of imports from Asia
State officials visited a handful of Chinatown merchants yesterday to highlight the safety of Asian imports in the wake of China's tainted-food scare.
One of five merchants attributed a decline in sales of at least 20 percent to public fears over the safety of Chinese imports, while others blamed the soft economy and a seasonal slowdown for the downturn in business.
The state Department of Health released a warning this month to Hawaii consumers to avoid buying toothpaste labeled as made in China, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued other public warnings about tainted Chinese food products.
"It's a real issue, but I think you have to keep it in perspective," said Gov. Linda Lingle, who led the group of officials, which included Department of Health Director Chiyome Fukino and Ted Liu of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "Generally, merchants feel the impact is small."
Tighter scrutiny of imports also may be a major factor affecting sales as products are held up in longer inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Ted Li, president-elect of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.
"Because containers are retained longer maybe they have less products to sell," he said. "The general economic trend is that retail is slowing."
However, Johnson Choi, president of the Hong Kong China Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, maintains that at least a dozen merchants surveyed this month had previously indicated that Chinese food-safety concerns were to blame for an up to 40 percent drop in sales among some downtown business, most of whom were reluctant to publicly address the issue.