In today’s globalized economy, it’s perfectly normal to be wearing shoes made in Malaysia, listening to an American pop star on a Korean smartphone while driving a German car fitted with Japanese tires. But how many times have you taken a good look to find out where those new jeans or those headphones you got for Christmas were really made?
Recently Japanese consumers have been discovering that some of their products are from “P.R.C.,” a country they had never heard of, and would like some answers on what appears to be a legal gray zone in product labeling regulations.
A linguistic loophole of sorts has been allowing some products produced in China to be labeled in English as “Made in P.R.C.” Referring to China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China, the label is accused by some consumer advocates as being misleading. They say it’s a disingenuous attempt to rebrand the country after a series of food scandals tainted the image of Chinese-made goods around the world.
Typically in Japan, goods from China are labeled 中国産 ("chugokusan"), literally meaning “produce of China”. But some Chinese manufacturers seem to be piggybacking off the more commonly seen wording for products in Japan from the United States of America — Made in U.S.A. These Chinese manufacturers could argue that, just like “U.S.A.,” they have every right to use the abbreviation of their country’s official name, in English, when identifying where their products come from.
The practice of using the English abbreviation of a country’s official name is not unheard of, like these tires from Taiwan stamped with its formal name — Republic of China.
According to Harumi Hori, a corporate lawyer in Tokyo, the proliferation of goods with the “Made in P.R.C.” really started sometime after January 2008 when frozen packaged gyoza dumplings from China were recalled amidst a food poisoning scare. The “new” label may have been made to appeal to Japanese consumers who were starting to avoid all products coming out of China.
Although safety regulators in Japan require food manufacturers to clearly label the country of origins of all food in Japanese, other products do not fall under the same regulation. And since P.R.C. is just as legitimate an abbreviation as U.S.A., regulators are hesitant to call the “Made in P.R.C.” label “misleading.” Hori and other consumer advocates would like labeling regulations to be equal across all industries, requiring Japanese to be used when identifying which country made the product in a customer’s hands.
The confusion about the label has caused a number of products on online shopping sites, such as Yahoo! Shopping or Amazon Japan, to be labeled “Made in China,” but “Made in P.R.C.” on the actual physical package and vice versa. When contacted by the Japanese economic newspaper Sankei Shimbun, a company spokespersons said that there are no regulations prohibiting such labeling. The Japanese online retailer Rakuten said that it is the responsibility of the manufacturers themselves to identify where the product is made.
The Consumer Affairs Agency of Japan, which regulates the labeling of products, has said that while consumers may have a “low degree of familiarity” with the term P.R.C., the phrase does not appear to be in violation of the rule that prohibits misleading wording about a product’s origin. Consumers trying to avoid Chinese-made goods are now trying to increase awareness that a product made in “P.R.C.” is actually from China.
Are Japanese consumers overreacting to something they should have perhaps learned in middle school social studies class? Or are Chinese manufacturers just trolling the China haters? Without a clear judgement from regulators on whether product labels can use the abbreviation of a country’s formal, but not as commonly known, name, the “Made in P.R.C.” label seems like it is here to stay.
Source: Yahoo! Japan News
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