The US Food and Drug Administration will open the first of three offices in China tomorrow.

The agency’s Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt have flown to China and will open the first office in Beijing. They will then move on to Guangzhou and Shanghai to open the first FDA offices outside the USA.

The HHS said that "establishing a permanent FDA presence in China will greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness of our regulatory cooperation and our efforts to protect consumers in both countries". The department added that the new offices will “assist the Chinese Government in its ongoing efforts to improve its regulatory systems for exports”.

The agreement to set up FDA offices in China was agreed in principle last December. Since then, China's State Food and Drug Administration has been working with the agency to root out the cause of serious adverse events linked to contaminated batches of Baxter’s blood-thinner heparin manufactured in China that led to deaths in the USA and elsewhere.

The offices will have around 12 staff and the FDA has also expressed interest in setting up a formal presence in India and central America. Last month, a damning report from US Congress watchdog the Government Accountability Office, claimed that the agency inspects “relatively few” foreign facilities producing drugs for sale in the USA, and its assessment of such sites is often based on inaccurate data.