Wednesday, 7 August 2013

UNGCP: Positive signs on the long road to change

CI's Head of Asia Pacific and Middle East Indrani Thuraisingham reflects on the outcome of the UN Guidelines meeting.

The UN meeting on the review of its Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP) concluded on 12 July in Geneva.  Essentially the result is positive, but the process from this point forward will be more drawn out than one would have hoped.

The UNCTAD Secretariat, led by Mr Hassan Qaqaya indicated that this was the ‘second and final’ ad hoc meeting in the sequence running up to the revision. Four working groups established (all including CI) at the conclusion of the  meeting will carry the work forward on revisions to the text during the coming year.

Ultimately, however, the UNCTAD Secretariat will finalise the text by July 2014, before passing it through another UN Conference (this one dedicated to restrictive business practices) scheduled for 2015.

Then, in theory, this UN review body could decide to forward the draft to the UN General Assembly for approval, but we have no input into that.

It is not an ideal pathway for the Guidelines, because the UN review body will be composed of competition policy experts, not consumer protection experts. 

Representatives from the Member states were very assertive in the meeting about wanting a wide range of issues included in the revision.

The initial emphasis on financial services and e-commerce would, if left unchallenged, have left the bulk of the Guidelines untouched since 1985, thus defeating much of the purpose of updating them.

Most delegations (with the exception of the US) argued in favour of including data protection when considering amendments to the e-commerce provisions. The Conference went on to consider a whole list of other issues that will be taken forward by a dedicated Working Group.

CI is in a very strong position as, together with our Members, we have already drafted detailed positions. We are therefore able to operate on the basis of present positions with relatively little extra drafting work.

Our efforts will be mainly in arguing for specific terms of reference for the four working groups that were established:
  • financial services
  • e-commerce
  • ‘other issues’ (which includes data protection, cross-border trade , tourism, collective redress, integration with other governmental policies, public services including water and energy and the principle of universal service, transport, real estate (housing), access to knowledge, and abusive advertising)  
  • a proposed ‘UN Standing Commission for Consumer Protection’ (a key demand in our original recommendations).

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