China's environmental watchdog, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), and the commerce ministry will be jointly in charge of the new initiative, the Xinhua news agency said.

 

Zhang Lijun, vice director of the SEPA, told Xinhua the two agencies will work together to boost supervision of exporters.

 

"[We] will set up a database to collect information of those exporters who violate environmental protection rules and also keep details of efforts made to clean up their act by these exporting companies," he was quoted as saying.

 

He did not say when the new rules might come into effect.

 

In recent years China has tightened environmental rules as it struggles to deal with increasing pollution that has led to higher health costs and mounting public discontent.

 

Birth defects

 

Earlier this week state media reported on an alarming 40 per cent rise in birth defects nationwide since 2001, with strong indications that pollution was to blame.

 

The rate of abnormalities appeared higher near the country's countless coal mines which not only produce the bulk of energy but are also the main polluting agents, the China Daily said quoting government officials.

 

The paper cited a report from the National Population and Family Planning Commission showing that birth defects nationwide had increased from 104.9 per 10,000 births in 2001, to 145.5 last year.

 

Jiang Fan, deputy head of the commission who authored the report said: "A baby with birth defects is born every 30 seconds in China and the situation has worsened year by year."