Consumer protection in the G-20 agenda

The News on Sunday, April 30, 2023

By Pradeep S Mehta

One earth, one family, one future” is an excellent mantra. It could pave the way for global welfare. However, the agenda misses a critical component for achieving global welfare — consumer welfare.

Consumers are the raison d’etre for all economic activity. Without increased and improved consumer protection, it is hard to see how the G-20 goals can be achieved. This missing link has to be addressed.

World leaders are now discussing how to achieve sustainable growth by addressing both the economic and developmental priorities and the contemporary global challenges, including climate change, poverty, global debt and recession. Green development, promotion of climate finance, technological transformation, promotion of multilateral institutions and digital public infrastructure, as well as women-led development are the priority areas for this summit.

G-20’s tryst with consumer protection

In 1999, when the G-20 was established as a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors of 20 major economies to discuss global economic issues, it did not recognise the importance of consumer protection. Indeed, in those early years, the G-20 focused primarily on financial and macroeconomic issues, such as financial market regulation, fiscal policies and international monetary cooperation.

With the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, consumer protection slowly became an important issue for the G-20. It began to recognise the importance of protecting consumers from fraudulent and unfair business practices to promote sustainable economic growth and development. Subsequent G-20 summits, therefore, began to address consumer protection policies and took a number of initiatives to advance consumer protection.

In 2011, the G-20 summit hosted by the French government highlighted the importance of keeping consumers at the heart of the Group’s work. During the summit, the G-20 leaders adopted the High-Level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection, which had earlier been endorsed at the Seoul Summit. The leaders also endorsed the G-20/ OECD High-Level Principles on Consumer Protection in the Digital Economy, which aim to ensure that consumers are adequately protected in the rapidly evolving digital marketplace.

In addition, the summit resulted in the establishment of the G-20 Consumer Protection Working Group, which was tasked with promoting greater cooperation and information sharing among G-20 member countries on consumer issues.

At the next summit in 2013, the G-20 established a Consumer Protection Task Force to promote international cooperation in the area of consumer protection. It helped improve information sharing, promote best practices and strengthen consumer protection policies and enforcement mechanisms. Since its establishment, the task force has worked on a number of initiatives related to consumer protection, including developing principles for effective consumer dispute resolution and sharing information on consumer protection issues related to e-commerce and the digital economy.

Assigning priority to consumer protection can help promote sustainable economic growth, ensure fair competition and address global issues that affect consumers everywhere. This, in turn, can contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The G-20 has held several discussions pertaining to the interests of consumers since the establishment of the G-20 Consumer Protection Task Force in 2013. Some of the key consumer issues recognised by G-20 since then are mentioned below:

Consumer Issues

2014 Focused on promoting financial consumer protection; discussed measures to improve financial education; promote transparency and disclosure in financial markets

2015 Discussed measures to strengthen consumer protection in the digital economy, including the protection of personal data and privacy.

2016 Focused on promoting consumer protection in e-commerce and discussed measures to protect consumers from counterfeit and dangerous products.

2017 Focused on role of technology in shaping consumer behaviour, the impact of globalisation on consumer protection and the need for greater transparency and accountability in the digital economy.

2018 Focused on promoting digital consumer protection and discussed measures to protect consumers from online fraud and scams, emerging challenges in product safety and food waste.

2019 Recognised the need to empower consumers and protect their interests in the digital era.

2020 Focused on promoting consumer protection in the digital age and discussed measures to protect consumers in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

2021 Recognised the need to focus on consumers’ awareness and empowerment, digital financial literacy and consumerism.

The G-20 has long encouraged member countries to strengthen consumer protection policies, develop effective enforcement mechanisms and promote consumer education and awareness.

Bring consumer protection back on the agenda

In today’s interconnected world, assigning priority to consumer protection can help promote sustainable economic growth, ensure fair competition, prevent crises and address global issues that affect consumers everywhere. This, in turn, can contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the creation of a more just and equitable global economy.

Promoting fair trade practices, ensuring product safety, encouraging sustainable consumption and encouraging innovation can help create a more equitable and sustainable global economy that benefits everyone.

Without addressing consumer protection, the G-20 agenda is not au fait with the developments on the consumer protection scene of IBSA and Global South. If G-20 leaders are serious about sustainable economic growth and want to foster trust and transparency in the global marketplace, then addressing it is an imperative.

The writer is the secretary general of CUTS International and may be reached at psm@cuts.orgSimi TB of CUTS contributed to the article.
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