UNCTAD convenes consumer protection talks amid heightened vulnerability

cost-of-living crisis

The emerging cost-of-living crisis, added to the COVID-19 pandemic, is undermining the financial resilience of many consumers, increasing their vulnerability.

Ministers, high-level government representatives, experts, civil society and private sector representatives will next week discuss how to better protect consumers amid the global cost of living crisis during meetings organised by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The sixth session of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy will take place from 18th to 19th July, followed by the twentieth session of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Competition Law and Policy from 20th to 22nd July, in Geneva and online.

The meetings are open to the public, but registration is required.

Tackling pressing consumer protection issues

High-level speakers will discuss pressing and timely consumer protection issues related to financial consumers, health services and international trade of unsafe products.

Consumer products withdrawn from one market due to non-compliance with safety requirements can still be sold to other jurisdictions where that non-compliance hasn’t been assessed or acted upon, causing injuries or even deaths.

In one session, the speakers will discuss how to implement a recommendation on preventing cross-border distribution of known unsafe consumer products, the first recommendation on product safety at the UN, which was adopted at UNCTAD in 2020.

The fast adoption of digital finance also brings new opportunities and risks. A session will be devoted to financial consumer protection.

And a roundtable discussion will tackle challenges related to consumer protection in the provision of health services.

Ensuring competition in the digital era

Delegates will address the interplay between competition, consumer and data protection policies in the digital era.

A small number of companies such as Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft dominate global digital markets. Massive levels of data collection, storage, processing and use enable these platforms to improve their services and attract more users and advertisers.

However, this process confers considerable market power to a small number of big digital platforms, which threatens competition.

Digital platforms provide consumers with new products and services free of charge nominally, in exchange for their personal data. Consumers don’t know the value of their data nor actions to protect their privacy.

Digital platforms’ data monetising model also raises serious data protection issues, directly harming consumers.

Experts will exchange views on recent developments, policy directions and regulation of the digital economy. They will explore how competition, consumer and data protection policies can be better coordinated.

They will also examine the role of competition law and policy in supporting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the COVID-19 era, and how to rethink competition law enforcement after the pandemic.

Besides, they will discuss how to make markets more resilient, inclusive and climate-friendly so that economies are better prepared for crises.

Voluntary peer reviews

The meetings will include voluntary peer reviews of consumer protection law and policy in Thailand, and competition law and policy in Bangladesh.

Through these reviews, UNCTAD provides an external and independent assessment of a country’s consumer protection and competition laws and policies, identifies challenges and proposes recommendations.

Promoting consumer protection and competition

UNCTAD will update member-states on its work in the past year, during which it has implemented several technical cooperation projects and training activities on consumer protection and competition across the world.

It will also present its updated world consumer protection map which provides a comprehensive picture of legal and institutional frameworks worldwide.

Representatives from beneficiary countries and partners will showcase UNCTAD’s work in disseminating international best practices, and strengthening the capacity of government officials and stakeholders.

Countries will also report on their progress on the implementation of the UN guidelines for consumer protection.

UNCTAD is the focal point within the UN on consumer protection and competition issues.

It promotes the UN guidelines for consumer protection (UNGCP) and the UN Set on competition (UN Set) – the only two multilaterally agreed global instruments on these issues.

The intergovernmental group of expert meetings on consumer protection and on competition laws and policies are the highest-level annual meetings, the only ones within the UN.

They were established to monitor the implementation of the UN instruments, provide fora for consultations, produce research and studies, provide technical assistance, undertake voluntary peer reviews, and periodically update and complement the UNGCP and the UN Set.

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