AEC Blueprint 2025 Analysis: Paper 9 | An Analysis of ASEAN Consumer Protection Policy

by Dr. Bambang Irawan | Originally published on 16 August 2016.


Summary

ASEAN consumer protection is relatively new and the previous AEC Blueprint does not make any specific time frame on the implementation of the measures. The new Blueprint has outlined more specific strategies in promoting protection and fair treatment for ASEAN consumers, including the necessary infrastructure to implement those strategies. Member States need to work more on developing the relevant policies and laws, and harmonising them across the region, especially in the case of cross-border dispute settlements.

Foreword
The AEC Blueprint Analysis series is a publication which seeks to provide insight into the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint (AEC) 2025. The publication will seek to do so by adopting a holistic approach in its analysis; creating context by examining past achievements, defining present challenges, and discussing future plans. The series will pay special attention to strategic measures outlined within the AEC’s new blueprint, providing insights with regards to the viability of regional economic integration under the AEC.

Consumer Protection Policy
In supporting the development of a people-centred economic region, ASEAN has put a high priority
in implementing measures to promote consumer protection. Consumers are an important stakeholder
in the integrated economies of ASEAN and countries have committed to work together to ensure that the rights of the consumers are well protected in the process of integrating the ASEAN economies report provides some useful information in the work that has been carried out by ASEAN Member States, reflecting on the AEC Blueprint 2015, the current challenges and the next stage under the AEC Blueprint 2025.

A. Targets under the AEC 2015 Blueprint

AEC Blueprint 2015
With the objective of accommodating the interests of consumers in the economic integration of
ASEAN, the 2015 Blueprint outlines three actions:

  1. ASEAN member states would establish the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Consumer
    Protection (ACCCP).
  2. Simultaneously, member states would also establish a network among the consumer
    protection agencies to facilitate information sharing and exchange.
  3. During the implementation period, member states would engage in capacity building
    by organising regional training courses for officials in charge of consumer protection in
    preparation for an integrated ASEAN market.

Under the Blueprint 2015, these strategic actions did not have any specific schedule for
implementation, most likely because it was a very new initiative and was still in its early stages of development and implementation.

As of January 2014, eight member states had principal consumer protection acts. Gradual
progress was achieved by end of 2015 with nine member states having their acts. Cambodia will
enact its Consumer Protection Law by end of 2016.

ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection (ACCP)
The ACCP was established in 2008 to work on consumer protection legislation, consumer
access to information on recalled/banned products, information digests on consumer protection
issues and models for cross-border consumer redress mechanism, capacity building for relevant
officials, and advocacy of consumer protection.

B. Significant Achievements To Date

In general, the three strategic actions were all implemented to different extents. Member countries have enacted several laws that target the practices by the supply side participants that may harm the interests of consumers.

Following similar initiatives in the European Union (EU), Australia and other ASEAN partners,
ASEAN member states have made significant progress in dealing with practices and conducts that
are misleading, aggressive and unfair. A summary of ASEAN’s relevant laws are shown in the table
below:

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ASEAN have also agreed that there is a need to address the practice of limiting the rights of
consumers in contracts and to ensure that consumers are being treated in a fair manner in every
transaction. The UK and Australia have provided good examples for ASEAN in dealing with issues
related to it. The table below summarises efforts by several ASEAN members:

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In further promoting consumer protection and ensuring the rights of consumers in ASEAN, the
ACCP has commissioned a study on complaint systems and redress mechanisms for ASEAN (2014). Supported by Australia, the study came up with reports on ASEAN Complaint and
Redress Mechanism Models and Guidelines for the Selection and Implementation of Complaint
and Redress Models
. These reports are expected to provide assistance to consumer protection officials in identifying and reviewing the most appropriate models for internal complaint handling systems and external redress schemes for implementation in their jurisdictions.

In addition, Australia also supported a project so support research and dialogue on consumer
protection. The project resulted in two volumes of Consumer Protection Digests and Case
Studies: A Policy Dialogue. These two volumes aimed to enhance knowledge and understanding
of new and emerging consumer protection concerns and to assist the development of policies
based on experiences and lessons learned.

As follow ups to the reports, two ASEAN Consumer Protection Conferences have been held in
December 2014 and December 2015, respectively. The conference served as a platform in the
discussion on emerging issues and identified challenges drawn from the policy digests and case
studies. The conference focused on consumer product safety legislation, the use of warranties
and guarantees, enforcement and remedies, recalls and redress, and institutional design and
effectiveness of consumer and competition agencies.

An important progress in ensuring that consumers are able to voice their concerns and complaints
is the launch of the ASEAN Consumer Portal (www.aseanconsumer.org). the portal allows the
visitors to:

  1. Lodge a complaint or claim against any loss incurred (from any goods or services purchased) in a simple and efficient manner and at minimal cost;
  2. Identify the recalled or banned products in each member state;
  3. Consult on the existing consumer protection legislation in each member state

In 2015, the ACCP developed consumer protection manuals on six core areas: (i) product safety
and labelling, (ii) phone and internet services, and e-commerce, (iii) consumer credit and banking; (iv) environment; (v) healthcare services; and (vi) professional services. These manuals are expected to improve the member states’ capacities in adopting and implementing consumer protection laws and to strengthen technical capabilities in addressing consumer concerns and demands.

C. Current Issues and Challenges
The remaining one country that is currently still developing its consumer protection laws is
expected to have it completed by end of 2016.

Given that consumer protection is quite a new area under the AEC, ASEAN member states are
in different stages of implementing the necessary measures to promote protection and fair
treatment for consumers in their jurisdictions. It is then imperative that member states are able to coordinate their policies and laws. While significant harmonization has taken place across member states, more can needs to be done in this area.

The current status of liability regimes is still varied across member states, and this may pose
problems especially for small value claims/complaints within the existing dispute resolution
mechanisms.  

D. Plans under the AEC 2025 Blueprint
Compared to the AEC Blueprint 2015, the new Blueprint 2025 has shifted and deepened its
priorities to touch upon more pressing issues to develop the infrastructure of ASEAN consumer
protection initiative. The AEC Blueprint 2025 aims to address obstacles that have made it
difficult for ASEAN consumers to receive proper protection and fair treatment such as lack of
supporting policies and laws, low level of awareness on the importance of consumer protection
and on available dispute settlement mechanism, massive gaps in the implementation of consumer
protection across the ASEAN region, and insufficient technical capabilities of officials especially in the newer member states.

While this is a good indicator that member countries are taking consumer protection more
seriously, they need to work more on the implementation side, while continuously consult the
relevant stakeholders that are involved in the provision of fair treatment for ASEAN consumers.

E. AEC 2025 Blueprint Analysis

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F. Conclusion: Moving Forward with the AEC 2025 Plans
Other ASEAN member states, if necessary, should provide greater support to each other in
developing the laws and policies to promote consumer protection to ensure that the ASEAN
economic integration is really a people-centred community

ASEAN needs to continue to develop the much needed infrastructure in ensuring fair treatment
and protection to consumers. This would cover development and enactment of relevant regulatory
framework, uniform liability regimes across member states and strong institutions that would allow ASEAN consumers to fully comprehend their rights and obligations, to understand the existing policies and laws (including those in other jurisdictions), and to proceed easily and efficiently when lodging complaints and claims.

The ASEAN portal for consumer protection (www.aseanconsumer.org) needs to be continuously
refined and upgraded to make it more informative and user-friendly for ASEAN consumers in
seeking information, consulting with authorities and making claims. This is important given that for cross-border transactions and settlements, the internet is the most useful vehicle and medium.

The workshops and conferences must continue and should involve the private sector and consumer
representatives more in the consultations to ensure that the interests of the stakeholders are well represented in the implementation of the initiative.


References
ASEAN Secretariat (2008). ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint.
ASEAN Secretariat (2015). ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together
ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection (ACCP) and Australian Aid (2013). ASEAN Complaint and Redress Mechanism Models
ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection (ACCP) and Australian Aid (2013). Guidelines for the Selection and Implementation Complaint and Redress Mechanism Models
ASEAN Secretariat (2015). ASEAN Integration Report 2015.
ASEAN Secretariat (2015). A Blueprint for Growth ASEAN Economic Community 2015: Progress and Key Achievements.
ASEAN Secretariat (2015). Consumer Protection Digests and Case Studies: A Policy Dialogue (Vol 1)
ASEAN Secretariat (2015). Consumer Protection Digests and Case Studies: A Policy Dialogue (Vol 2)
Nottage, Luke: ASEAN Product Liability and Consumer Product Safety Regulation: Comparing National Laws and Free Trade Agreements, Sydney Law School, February 2015


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