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Chulalongkorn University’s ASEAN Studies Centre will sponsor this major international conference in Bangkok over 28-29 July 2015, with collaboration from and at the downtown venue of the Department of International Trade Promotion within Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce. The key organiser is the immediate past Dean of Law at Chula, Prof Sakda Thanitcul, assisted by Prof Luke Nottage, immediate past Associate Dean (International) at the University of Sydney Law School and a visiting professor at Chula for parts of 2015. Other speakers include Professor Geraint Howells, renowned consumer product safety law expert and presently Dean of Law at the City University of Hong Kong, as well as the following other country reporters:

1. Singapore: Mr. Lawrence Teh (lawrence.teh@rodyk.com)
2. Vietnam: Mr. Anh Thi Phuong Pham (phuonganh.p@tilleke.com)
3. Cambodia: Mr. Ly Tayseng (tayseng@hbslaw.asia)
4. Laos: Mr. Sornpheth Douangdy (Sornpheth.douangdy@la.pwc.com)
5. Myanmar: Prof. Dr. Khin Mar Yee (dr.khinmaryee.ygn@gmail.com)
6. Malaysia: Mr. Lim Chee Wee (lcw@skrine.com)
7. Indonesia: Mr. Riza Buditomo (Riza.Fadhli.Buditomo@bakernet.com)
8. Philippines: Prof. Emmanuel Lombos (emlombos@syciplaw.com)
9. Brunei: Prof. Dr. Colin Ong (onglegal@gmail.com)

Country reporters will summarise key features in their respective jurisdictions, elaborating eg from Jocelyn Kellam (ed) Product Liability in the Asia-Pacific (3rd ed 2009), but focus on new developments in private law, public regulation, enforcement and media coverage of product safety issues. The conference also draws on my research for a smaller project, focusing on free trade agreement aspects, for the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

As explained in my draft paper for the July conference, available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2562695, the background is that consumer product safety is a major contemporary concern for developing, middle-income and developed economies. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), through its Committee on Consumer Protection (ACCP), has recognised this as a priority topic for international collaboration, as trade in goods accelerates through the region and with its major trading partners world-wide.

My paper uncovers already significant harmonisation in substantive product liability law enacted across ASEAN member states. However, as this conference will explore in more detail, strict liability regimes are still missing in several states (both developed and developing) and anyway undermined in practice by problems for consumers in accessing courts or other effective dispute resolution mechanisms, especially for small-value and/or mass claims.

Combined with variable media coverage of product safety failures within ASEAN member states, there is scope therefore to enhance minimum standards through generic consumer safety regulation by public authorities. The comparative analysis reveals even more progress in introducing minimum protections, such as powers to ban unsafe goods, set mandatory safety standards, and order or conduct recalls; but some national laws are recent, difficult to enforce or lacking in coverage (eg standard-setting powers for the general consumer regulator, as opposed to sectoral regulators). In particular, there is a gap across ASEAN member states in terms of requirements on suppliers to notify national regulators even when conducting voluntary recalls, let alone serious accidents and/or risks – as required now in major Asia-Pacific economies as well as in the EU. Reforms to national laws to fill this gap would also help connect ASEAN member state consumer affairs officials with counterparts abroad.

There are already growing opportunities to do so via information-sharing and capacity-building provisions increasingly found in FTAs concluded by individual ASEAN member states and ASEAN itself with third countries, and consumer affairs officials should be aware of and involved in such procedures.

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