Consumer protection is an essential tool in building a people-oriented ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The AEC prioritises the interests and welfare of consumers in the implementation of strategies for achieving an integrated economic region. Consumer protection is also an important component of a modern, efficient and competitive market place. Confident and informed consumers who make well-reasoned decisions, represent powerful drivers for innovation and productivity, thereby contributing towards the development of the AEC.
With a market of over 600 million consumers, rising purchasing power and a young demographic profile, ASEAN represents an important market for businesses. Consumer protection policies are therefore a necessary adjunct to ensure consumers buy with trust and confidence and that businesses refrain from engaging in fraudulent practices. Furthermore, consumer policies should be able to respond to new and emerging challenges and opportunities facing ASEAN. This includes cross-border e-commerce and other new trading methods resulting from globalisation and technological advancement, requiring governments to find innovative ways to protect and promote the interests of consumers.
Increased globalization, cross border purchasing, changes in consumer demographics and advances in technological innovation are having significant influences on business and consumer behavior in ASEAN Member States (AMS). These developments require that more effort be made towards advancing the ASEAN consumer protection agenda as part of the competitive ASEAN agenda under the ASEAN Blueprint 2025. In this connection, taking cognizance of these trends, the ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for Consumer Protection (ASAPCP) 2025 was developed to give further detail to the strategic measures on consumer protection under the AEC Blueprint 2025, in terms of strategic goals, initiatives and outcomes. The ASAPCP was then endorsed at the 48th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting on 3 August 2016 in Vientiane, Lao PDR. The ASAPCP will be implemented by the ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection (ACCP).
The four strategic goals and initiatives of the ASAPCP 2025 flow from the key consumer action strategies under the AEC Blueprint 2025. These four goals are: a common ASEAN consumer protection framework; a high common level of consumer empowerment and protection; high consumer confidence in the AEC and cross border transactions and streamlining consumer concerns in ASEAN policies. In addition to these four goals, supportive measures were incorporated to reflect additional efforts that focuses on new and emerging consumer issues, developing long term capacity building program to assist AMS to implement its consumer protection legislations and strengthening the ACCP.
Under Strategic Goal 1, it is recognised that an effective consumer protection regime in ASEAN could begin by adopting and implementing a set of high-level principles on consumer protection that are adaptable to changes in the AEC. This could form the basis for modernizing consumer legislation in AMS. Enforcement and monitoring of consumer protection legislation is also being made effective through the development of capacity building tools and an ASEAN Knowledge Management System as well as through a peer review process. The use and adoption of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADR) for consumer redress are also part of the initiative under this goal for an effective consumer protection regime.
In Strategic Goal 2 of empowering ASEAN consumers so that markets work for the benefit of ASEAN citizens, consumers should be provided choices, accurate information, market transparency and the confidence that comes from effective protection and rights. Under this strategic goal, emphasis is given to ensuring the active participation of regional consumer forums and associations, strengthening engagement with these associations and developing online consumer knowledge and advocacy tools towards higher consumer empowerment.
To boost consumer confidence in transactions including cross-border commercial transactions, these require an appropriate regulatory framework and enforcement measures to ensure high level of confidence in domestic and cross-border transactions. Emphasis under Strategic Goal 3 will be put on product safety issues and establishing an ASEAN Regional Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Network. For cross-border transactions, this will also be addressed under the ASEAN E-Commerce Work Programme.
Integrating ASEAN consumer protection policies and priorities into other ASEAN policies and activities will remain essential over the next decade to ensure that they are mutually supportive and deliver results which are beneficial to citizens and other stakeholders. Strategic Goal 4 seeks to ensure overall consistency and complementarity between ASAPCP 2025 and other relevant ASEAN policies, instruments and actions. An impact assessment of consumer policies, development of the ASEAN Consumer Empowerment Index and exploring the interface between consumer protection and competition are part of the initiatives.
Supportive measures also complements the four strategic goals by focusing work on new and emerging consumer issues (including competition, e-commerce, financial services and air transport) and strengthening the capacity of consumer officials.
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