Hong Kong (HKSAR) — The Government announced yesterday (July 15) the launch of a public consultation exercise on strengthening protection for consumers against unfair trade practices. Speaking at a press conference, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mrs Rita Lau, said: “Our policy objective is to enhance protection of consumers’ legitimate interests, and at the same time to preserve a business friendly environment and a level playing field for traders to do businesses. “Hong Kong’s reputation as a shoppers’ paradise is earned through many years of hard and good work done by our business community abiding by unwritten rules of honest and truthful trading.We are determined not to allow the dishonest few to undermine consumer confidence and tarnish Hong Kong’s reputation,” Mrs Lau said.
In drawing up the legislative proposals in the consultation document, the Government has carefully considered the recommendations of the Consumer Council, suggestions raised in the community, relevant developments in the local market, and drawn reference from practices in overseas regulatory regimes.The Legislative Council has also been consulted. Mrs Lau encouraged members of the public to express their views through various channels during the consultation period.The Government will consider the views received and proceed with drafting work upon completion of the consultation exercise.The target is to introduce the amendment bill into the Legislative Council in the 2010/2011 legislative session. Major legislative proposals set out in the consultation document are as follows: (1)To create new criminal offences under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO) to prohibit several types of common unfair trade practices, namely misleading omissions, aggressive practices, “bait-and-switch” tactics, and the practice of accepting payments without the intention or ability to supply the contracted goods or services in consumer transactions.
(2)To extend the present prohibition of false trade descriptions of goods in the TDO to cover trade descriptions of services in consumer transactions. (3)To make available appropriate defences in criminal proceedings for the proposed offences, so that honest businesses would not be inadvertently caught. (4)To task the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) as the enforcement agency and give the C&ED new enforcement powers to ensure effective enforcement of the proposed fair trade provisions.
To complement criminal sanctions, it is also proposed that a compliance-based enforcement mechanism be established, under which the C&ED has the power to seek undertakings from traders suspected of deploying unfair trade practices to stop and not to repeat an offending practice. Where necessary, the C&ED can also seek a court injunction for the purpose. (5)To expressly provide under the TDO that aggrieved consumers can institute privatecivil action on infringement of the proposed fair trade provisions, and to give the court the power to make compensation orders in favour of consumers against persons convicted under the TDO.
(6)To impose cooling-off periods on transactions of timeshare rights and long-term holiday products as well as transactions concluded during unsolicited visits to consumers’ homes or places of work. In view of the presence of sector-specific regimes, it is proposed that the financial services sector, property transactions and professional practices regulated by regulatory bodies established by statute should continue to be regulated by their respective regimes, i.e. they would not be brought under the ambit of the expanded TDO.For the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors, the Government proposed that the present sector regulators be given concurrent enforcement powers to enforce the fair trade provisions in the TDO.
Mrs Lau briefed District Council chairmen and vice-chairmen this morning on the legislative proposals in the consultation paper.Officials from the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) will meet industry and trade organisations and organise regional forums during the consultation period to explain details of the proposals and solicit views from the trade and the general public.A dedicated Facebook page has been set up to facilitate expression of views.TV and radio Announcements in the Public Interest will also be launched today to publicise the consultation. The consultation will start today and run until October 31. Members of the public can obtain a copy of the consultation document at the public enquiry service centres of district offices of the Home Affairs Department or download it from the website of the CEDB’s Commerce, Industry and Tourism Branch (www.cedb.gov.hk/citb).
They can send their views to the CEDB by post (Level 29, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong), fax (2869 4420), or e-mail (email@example.com), or post their comments on the dedicated Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ConsumerProtectionReview.
Source: HKSAR Government