Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a forum for 21 Pacific Rim member economies that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region. It was established in 1989 in response to the growing interdependence of Asia-Pacific economies and the advent of regional trade blocs in other parts of the world; to fears that highly industrialised Japan (a member of G8) would come to dominate economic activity in the Asia-Pacific region; and to establish new markets for agricultural products and raw materials beyond Europe.
An annual APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting is attended by the heads of government of all APEC members except Taiwan (which is represented by a ministerial-level official under the name Chinese Taipei as economic leader). The location of the meeting rotates annually among the member economies, and a famous tradition, followed for most (but not all) summits, involves the attending leaders dressing in a national costume of the host country.
National Conference on Consumer Protection World Consumer Rights Day
“Chairman and Members of APEC, Distinguished Guests and Ladies and Gentlemen, It is indeed my privilege to be invited to address you this morning. It is no doubt a very laudable initiative and I believe APEC requires a round of applause.”
On 14 March 2013, APEC has announced an official speech on consumer protection issues, the full speech is as below:
Ladies and Gentlemen The United Nations’ guidelines for consumer protection highlight, as a general principle, the need for consumers to have the freedom and opportunity to form consumer organisations and present their views in the decision making processes that affect them.
Consumers, clients and customers the world over, are demanding value for money in the form of quality goods and better services. Modern technological developments have no doubt made a great impact on the quality, availability and safety of goods and services. But the fact of life is that many consumers are still victims of unscrupulous and exploitative practices.
Exploitation of consumers assumes numerous forms such as adulteration of food, spurious drugs, dubious hire purchase plans, high prices, poor quality, deficient services, deceptive advertisements, hazardous products, profiteering and many more.
Moreover, the growing inter-dependence of the world advertisements, hazardous products, profiteering and many more.
Moreover, the growing inter-dependence of the world economy and international character of many business practices have contributed to the development of universal emphasis on consumer rights protection and promotion.
In addition, with revolution in information technology, newer kinds of challenges are thrown on the consumer like cybercrimes, plastic money etc., which affect the Consumer in an even bigger way.
‘Consumer is sovereign’ and ‘customer is the king’ should not be viewed as being fake slogans.
However, it has been realized and rightly so that Consumer protection needs to be pursued by government as well as the businesses to the satisfaction of the consumers.
In this context, the government has a primary responsibility to protect the consumers’ interests and rights through appropriate policy measures, legal structure and administrative framework.
But Government alone cannot provide the necessary protection to the consumers. It needs strategic partners and this is where organisations such as APEC have a crucial role to assume on behalf of the consumers.
It was thought that the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act and the Fair Trading Act would encourage consumers to stand up for their rights.
The consumer movement has been rather slow and has not yet gathered its momentum. However, the measures taken by Government have stimulated the creation of consumer organizations such as ACIM, APEC and ICP.
The movement has not blossomed because not all of the organizations are active enough to make an impact. There has hardly been any unified action which would demonstrate their strength, and there has been no active consumer participation in these organisations.
Consumers claim that the lack of consumer education makes them passive and apathetic. The majority of consumers in the country are even unaware of the existence of such movements, and where and how to make grievances.
Consumer rights organizations, however, counter that they lack sufficient funds.
The Government has made significant contributions in laying the foundations for change, the need for consumer education, the need for knowledgeable officers, in particular for consumer protection with regard to health-related products.
As far as I know a free market economy, assumes informed, educated consumers with the power to influence the market through their rational decisions when confronted with choice.
It is also based on the assumption that there are effective consumer protection legislations and institutions which will tackle anti-competitive behaviour.
In fact many countries are well aware of this and generally have strong consumer movements as well as competition protection institutions. There is also a growing perception that Consumer movements are anti-market, anti-business, or antiliberalization and they tend to oppose government policies.
However, in Mauritius, we consider those movements or associations as our partners and stakeholders.
For example APEC, does say that economic activity must ultimately serve consumers. That’s why there are competition and consumer protection laws and that’s why governments ensure that consumers are given countervailing power in the market such as disclosure laws, mandatory product safety and quality standards, and statutory dispute resolution structures.
We all accept the fact that the objective of traders is to make profit and in some cases this is most easily secured by limiting competition and as far as possible exploiting consumers through high prices and/or by supplying sub-standard goods and services.
Last year, in 2012, we received 4024complaints, i.e. about 335 complaints per month – or roughly 11 per day. This is a lot. In our performance based budget, we bid toeffect 6500 checks of trader’s premises. With resources put at our disposal and with a strength of 25 staff, the Consumer Protection Unit of my Ministry, 7612 trade premises were visited and 573 contraventions were established. Yet, the CPU is not given the due recognition it deserves.
Our market condition is not perfect for competition to thrive fully.
The Government has initiated action to democratize the economy and to remove the imperfections. But this cannot be done overnight.
When I assumed office and took cognizance of the prevailing situation, I immediately acknowledged that the regulatory landscape for consumer protection is very complex.
Most consumer protection laws are outdated and fail to address consumer needs in the current times. For example, the Fair Trading Act is currently operating without adequate offences or penalties confusing. Anti-competitive practices such as formation of cartels, predatory pricing and price discrimination remain unchecked, thus nullifying the benefits of open market economy.
It must be recognized that businesses in developing countries play a dominant role as they are more organized and have resources and
information at their command. On the other hand consumers are less organized, lack resources and relevant information, which results in absence of resistance against sub-standard products and services and the power of business.
It is unfortunate that our consumers have to question the effectiveness of our Institutions when they hear enforcement agencies take cases to court in other countries for ripping off consumers.
It is worth mentioning that proper enforcement of consumer protection rules are not just the responsibility of public authorities.
Consumers through their representatives such as Consumer Association like APEC have a crucial role to play as watchdogs, raising the alarm when problems arise in the market.
We need a comprehensive legal framework, consolidating all consumer related laws and enforcement under one umbrella of Consumer Protection Agency.
In its programme for 2012- 2015 Government announced that it will come up with measures to strengthen consumer protection.
In this context, I am coming up with a New Consumer Protection Bill. Indeed, a workshop will be held tomorrow to consult stakeholders, including APEC, on that Draft Bill.
The efficient and effective programme of Consumer Protection is of special significance to all of us because we all are consumers. And furthermore, we, as Government, have the duty to protect consumers.
Even a manufacturer or provider of a service is a consumer of some other goods or services.
If both the producers/providers and consumers realize the need for co-existence, adulterated products, spurious goods and other deficiencies in services would become a thing of the past.
The active involvement and participation from all quarters i.e. Government, the educational Institutions, the NGO’s, the print and electronic media and the adoption and observance of a voluntary code of conduct by the trade and industry and the customer charter by the service providers is necessary to see that the consumers get their due.
Therefore, one of the key challenges for businesses, consumers and government is to examine our consumer policy framework to ensure it meets the needs of a modern economy.
What we need is strong laws, vigorous enforcement and educated consumers; I sincerely hope that this platform will deliberate on these issues and established itself as a multi-stakeholder consultative forum that can influence decision making process.
The need of the hour is for total commitment to the consumer cause and social responsiveness to consumer needs.
This should, however, proceed in a harmonious manner so that our society becomes a better place for all of us to live in.
I thank you for your attention and I have now the pleasure to declare open the first conference on consumer protection and wish you a fruitful deliberation.
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