Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon says some 700 reports regarding the purchase of products are made annually by unsatisfied consumers.

However, the new National Consumer Policy of T&T will not only ensure consumers are sufficiently well-informed and empowered, but also minimise and discourage unfair business practices.

Gopee-Scoon made the comment while delivering the feature address at the policy’s official launch at Nicholas Towers, Port-of-Spain, on Friday.

She said while existing consumer protection legislation provided some protection to consumers, there were still some deficiencies in addressing several important emerging issues, such as protection for services and digital content transactions.

As such, Gopee-Scoon said it is proposed that existing Consumer Protection and Safety Act, Chapter 84:34, be repealed and replaced in main, but not exclusively, with the provisions of the approved Caricom Model Consumer Protection Legislation in the form of the New Consumer Protection and Empowerment Act.

“More specifically, the new legislation places greater emphasis on consumer empowerment through additional rights and guarantees for consumers of goods, services and digital content. Another major aspect of the proposed legislation is the establishment of a quasi-judicial tribunal,” Gopee-Scoon said.

She said this medium will provide consumers with quick, inexpensive and binding means of settling consumer disputes up to a maximum of $300,000 in a timely manner.

Specifically, the new legislation will make provisions to address the following:

1. False, misleading or deceptive representations

2. Prohibition of restrictive trade practices

3. Prohibition of unfair trade practices

4. Misleading conduct in relation to employment advertising

5. Unreasonable transactions

6. Unfair and unjust transactions

7. Unconscionable conduct

8. Renegotiation of terms

9. Bait advertising

10. Referral selling

11. Pyramid selling

Gopee-Scoon added, “As it relates to penalties, the new Consumer Protection and Empowerment Act will expand beyond the current enforcement responses of authorised officers, allowing more stringent provisions against offences such as misleading, false and malicious advertisements.”

She said given the recently approved National e-Commerce Policy, there is an urgent need to harmonise the contents of the two policies to address holistically, consumerism and consumer protection in the current dispensation.

The minister added that as digital content awareness was also creating a huge e-commerce market globally, the new legislation will establish guarantees for digital content similarly included in the 2015 UK Consumer Rights Act, which include a guarantee to acceptable quality and a guarantee that digital content is fit for particular purpose.

“The New Consumer Policy seeks to address fulsomely, the issue of errant businesses, strengthen the avenues for timely redress against such businesses that persist in pursuing unfair business practices and make provisions for service providers and distance content issues,” Gopee-Scoon said.