Bulletin n°2: UNCTAD IGE on Consumer Protection Law and Policy

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Jul 4, 2017, 5:04:33 PM7/4/17
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Bulletin n°2 | Tuesday, July 4, 2017
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About this bulletin
This week, UNCTAD is holding the second Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Consumer Protection Law and Policy, a standing body established under the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP). This annual meeting monitors the application and implementation of the guidelines, and provides a forum for consultations, research, technical assistance, and peer reviews. With this bulletin, CUTS is keeping you posted on the proceedings.

@UNCTAD #UN4Consumer

Consumer Protection in Electronic Commerce

Developments in information and communications technology in the last decade have provided new opportunities for consumers and businesses alike. An increasing number of consumers have access to the Internet and engage in e-commerce, which provides easier and faster access to products and services. But it poses some challenges in ensuring consumer protection, due to lack of transparency, and lack of international cooperation, among others.

There is a need for more flexibility to ensure standards and legislation remain relevant to e-commerce. On the other hand, digitalization can offer opportunities for comsumer protection agencies, such as launching online platforms to help consumers register complaints related to e-commerce. In this regard, the OECD Guidelines on Consumer Protection and e-commerce were highlighted as an important tool, to be used by countries in updating their consumer protection legislations and regimes.

The challenges of access and trust in e-commerce, as well as the question of guarantee and value of consumer data, call for special strategies to protect the rights of consumers online while ensuring smooth development of the e-commerce sector. It was noted that that UNCTAD has an important role to play in this regard, by involving a wide range of stakeholders towards holistic ways forward.

Speakers on the panel included Ms. Nathalie Homobono, Director General, Directorate General of Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control, France ; Ms. Vadiyya Khalil, Chairwoman, Competition Commission, Pakistan ; Mr. Rafael Ochoa Morales, Federal Attorney Office of Consumers, Mexico ; Ms. Gilly Wong, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Consumer Council, Hong Kong; Ms. Deon Woods Bell, Federal Trade Commission, United States ; Mr. Michael Donohue, Senior Policy Analyst, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ; Ms. Amanda Long, Director General, Consumers International.

African Consumer Protection Dialogue

This informal discussion organised by the US Fair Trade Commission highlighted recent developments on consumer protection in Africa, and the role played by the African Consumer Protection Dialogue (“African Dialogue”) in this regard.

African Dialogue is a network that developed significantly since its creation a decade ago. Initiated by the US FTC, it provides technical assistance in partnership with African consumer protection institutions, by organising events where experts and relevant stakeholders can share their experiences and good practices. Annual meetings are organised in all African regions. It was reported that the initiative improved collaboration among African countries in the area of consumer protection, and allowed them to take a greater part in international cooperation.

Experts shared achievements in terms of law enforcement and policies related to consumer protection in African countries, such as Zambia and Egypt. These were made possible thanks to cooperation between different national, regional and international entities. Therefore, panellists emphasised the importance of enhancing cross-border cooperation, as well as collaboration between different national bodies.

The main challenge highlighted by panellists included how to promote and enhance law enforcement in Africa, where the legal framework is still at an early stage in most countries. Among other specific issues to be addressed, discussants identified e-commerce, mobile commerce and payments, data security, false and misleading advertising, and lack of transparency. Egypt also insisted on issues arising in specific sectors. Suggestions were made such as developing consumer protection dialogue and cooperation in the framework of the African Union.

Finally, participants were informed that the next conference of the African Dialogue will take place in November 2017, although the location could not be announced yet.

The event was introduced by Ms. Deon Woods Bell, US FTC and Ms. Elizabeth Gachuiri, UNCTAD. The discussion was moderated by M. George Lipimile (COMESA) and Ms. Stacy Feuer (FTC), and included Mr. Brian Lingela, Ambia Competition and Consumer Protection Commission; Ms. Laura Best, South Africa; Mr. Atef Yacoub, Egypt; Mr. Francis Kariuki, Kenya; Mr. Yves Kenfack, UNCTAD.

Review of capacity-building and technical assistance on consumer protection law and policy

This session aimed to introduce and review capacity-building and technical assistance programmes implemented by UNCTAD around the world to enhance and promote consumer protection law and policy. Discussions allowed various stakeholders including development partners and beneficiary countries to share their experiences and opinions about such programmes.

Experience was shared about UNCTAD’s capacity-building programmes on consumer protection law and policy, more particularly in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions.

In Latin America, UNCTAD’s COMPAL regional programme provided trainings and workshops in order to enhance the legislation and legal frameworks, as well as an interactive knowledge management online platform featuring educational and informative materials. In Africa, where the state of consumer protection law mechanisms is still at an early stage of development, UNCTAD’s technical assistance and capacity-building played an important role in enhancing consumer protection and promoting competition by removing legal barriers. In the MENA region, several regional centres for cooperation on consumer protection and competition have been established to enable cross-border interactions among countries in the region.

Delegates from various beneficiary countries also shared positive feedback about UNCTAD’s capacity building and technical assistance programmes, and insisted on the important role of donors and other development partners for the effectiveness and sustainability of such interventions.

On the Panel were Ms. Yanci Urbina, President, Defensoría del Consumidor, El Salvador ; Ms. Fatiha Akharif, Acting Director of Quality and Market Surveillance, Ministry for Industry, Trade, Investment and Digital Economy, Morocco ; Mr. Girma Alemar, Deputy Director General, Trade Competition and Consumer Protection Authority, Ethiopia ; Dr. Hoseok Jang and Senior Researcher, Korea Fair Trade Commission, Republic of Korea ; Ms. Sita Zimpel, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Germany.

The legal and institutional framework for consumer protection

Following a decision at the first IGE meeting to compile a directory of consumer protection focal points, and in line with the UNGCP guideline 87, UNCTAD has undertaken to develop a “World Consumer Protection Map” which was introduced during this session.

This interactive online tool would be able to provide updated information about the latest status of consumer protection at the global level, across a wide range of countries. Users would have the ability to filter according to different criteria, and access country-provided information about its consumer protection situation and regime directly in the map. It is envisaged that the map will universal and publicly available, so as to benefit governments, businesses and consumers alike.

Still work in progress, more countries will be added to the 49 currently available on the platform. This will be done primarily through permanent missions in Geneva, which will be the designated contact points for gathering information for purposes of implementing the UNGCP. These permanent missions will fill in questionnaires covering three main aspects related to the legal, institutional, and policy environment, in order to provide the country-specific information which will appear in the map.

Closing Plenary

Concluding this two-day meeting of the IGE on Consumer Protection, delegates adopted agreed conclusions and way forward for the coming year. Through this document, delegates underscored consumer protection law and policy as a key instrument for addressing unfair fraudulent and deceptive commercial practices in a globalised world, and the need for specific measures to protect vulnerable and disadvantages consumers. They also emphasised the importance of harnessing e-commerce for consumer welfare while limiting its potential risks, encouraging member States to strengthen their cooperation in this area towards building trust in the digital economy.

Decision was made that the work programme of the IGE for the coming year should include: (i) the exchange of experiences and best practices; (ii) the collection and dissemination of information; (iii) the consideration of relevant studies and other documentation; and (iv) the formulation of recommendations on the issues discussed this week.

Against this backdrop, the meeting requested UNCTAD to establish two working groups, respectively on: (i) E-Commerce; and (ii) Protection of vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers. These would facilitate information exchange and consultations among members on these issues. In addition, delegates also requested UNCTAD to undertake two studies to be discussed at the next IGE meeting, respectively on: (i) Dispute resolution and redress; (ii) Consumer product safety.

Finally, member States decided to invite UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Board to submit to the UN General Assembly a declaration for a “World Consumer Protection Week”. Consultations will continue based on a draft declaration proposed by Argentina, before consideration by the board this September. Yesterday already, the Secretary-General of CUTS International had called for the adoption of March 15 as World Consumer Rights Day.

Tomorrow onwards, the competition community will gather in Geneva for a similar International Group of Experts meeting where they will share experiences in the implementation of Competition Law and Policy. We will still be there and will continue to update you on the proceedings.

Jaipur • New Delhi • Chittorgarh • Kolkata • Hanoi • Nairobi • Lusaka • Accra • Geneva


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