The US government says that health chiefs in China have approved a proposal which will allow the US Food and Drug Administration to open offices in three Chinese cities and the agency's inspectors could be installed by the end of the year.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt announced some of the details of the proposal after meeting Li Changjiang, China's Minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ) in Annapolis. The agreement will see the development of "concrete steps" that will lead to a system whereby AQSIQ will electronically certify to FDA that specific products sent for export to the USA meet standards for safety and manufacturing quality.

The proposals will also help the two countries notify each other of "significant risks to public health related to product safety or the gross deception of consumers", and to share information to facilitate each other’s investigation, the HHS said. The agreement was agreed in principle last December at the third session of the "United States-China Strategic Economic Dialogue", and since then China's State Food and Drug Administration has been working with the FDA 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.

Mr Leavitt noted that the offices will be opened in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou before the end of this year, with a total staff of nine-12. He said that the HHS has been working very closely with the Chinese government "to create a new strategy on the way we deal with imports" and that "we see this office not just necessarily as an inspection group, it will be a capacity building group".