UNCTAD Experts Outline Trends in E-commerce and consumer protection at Panama meeting

10 June 2014

​UNCTAD’s Competition and Consumer Policies branch outlined the organization’s work on e-commerce and the progress made in revising the UN guidelines on consumer protection at an International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) event in Panama, 20-23 May 2014.

The first of two presentations took place as part of a panel discussion entitled "Online Advertising and E-commerce Developments", which considered an update of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines from 1999 on e-commerce, including related reports and policy instruments on payments, digital content products and participative e-commerce, as well as the work of UNCTAD on this issue.

Mr. Hassan Qaqaya, head of UNCTAD's Competition and Consumer Policies branch highlighted global and regional trends in e-commerce and the lessons learnt from both developed and developing countries, which will also be covered in the forthcoming UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2015. This report will also stress the growing economic impact of e-commerce in developing countries - for example, from $1.6 billion to $43 billion in Latin America in past decade, with Brazil accounting for largest market share at 59 per cent. E-commerce has also created jobs in developing countries, UNCTAD experts said.

ICPEN, Panama
From left to right: Brigitte Coca (OECD), Hassan Qaqya (UNCTAD), Antonino Serra (Consumers International) and Stacy Feuer (US-FTC)

He also outlined the drivers and barriers to e-commerce in developing countries, including infrastructure and access, the legal framework, payments and logistics.

The issue of consumer protection within e-commerce was also addressed. Innovations, such as mobile money, cloud computing and social media on e-commerce, have created additional challenges for consumer protection enforcers, particularly in developing countries and economies in transition.

Consumers can be faced with fraud, swindles and invasion of privacy in the information society. However, the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) and UNCTAD can work together in bringing additional protection to e-consumers.

In this regard, Zambia's representative said that launching the e-commerce Working Group to review UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection is essential in order to see how the UN can help many developing countries to solve the challenges that consumers face in the information society.

UNCTAD experts concluded that it would be appropriate to include guidelines on e-commerce in a new section of the UN guidelines on consumer protection.

UNCTAD representatives also contributed to a panel discussion on "networking the networks". This session was the opportunity to brief ICPEN members about progress so far regarding revision of the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection and in particular the work carried out by the four established Working Groups.

ICPEN is an international network of governmental consumer protection authorities. ICPEN cooperates to share information about cross-border commercial activities affecting consumers and to encourage international enforcement cooperation among consumer protection agencies.

The mandate of the network is to share information about cross-border commercial activities that may affect consumer interests and to encourage international cooperation among law enforcement agencies.