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[The following is an un-footnoted draft of a second Policy Digest (also omitting Figures) prepared for a Sydney Southeast Asia Centre joint research project and an ASEAN Secretariat conference on consumer protection law in Hanoi over 8-9 December 2014. The footnoted final version is available at: http://www.asean.org/resources/publications/item/consumer-protection-digests-and-case-studies-a-policy-guide-volume-1?category_id=382]

1. Overview

Consumer product safety failures continue to occur ASEAN states. However, many reported cases involve product sectors that already involve some public regulation (Part 2). For other product types, many states have enacted strict product liability (PL) statutes, aimed at making it easier for harmed consumers to claim compensation and thus providing an additional incentive for manufacturers to supply safe goods (Part 3). Yet PL litigation and claims remain very limited, as in Europe (Parts 4-5). The incentive effect needs to be bolstered by other measures, including improvements in access to justice (Part 6).

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[The following is an un-footnoted longer draft of one of two Policy Digests prepared for a Sydney Southeast Asia Centre joint research project and an ASEAN Secretariat conference on consumer protection law in Hanoi over 8-9 December 2014. The footnoted final version is available at: http://www.asean.org/resources/publications/item/consumer-protection-digests-and-case-studies-a-policy-guide-volume-1?category_id=382]

1. Overview
Consumer product safety is a major contemporary concern for developing, middle-income and developed economies. 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 with its major trading partners world-wide. Part 2 of this Digest highlights the policy challenge. Part 3 shows how market and even private law incentives are unlikely to provide sufficient incentives for manufacturers to produce safe products; some minimum regulatory standards are needed. Part 4 focuses on regulatory powers to force recalls of unsafe goods, but also requirements for suppliers to notify national regulators about ‘voluntary’ recalls. It also outlines recall information disclosure efforts underway nationally, regionally (notably within the European Union, EU, but also through ACCP since early 2011), and now internationally (especially through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, since late 2012). This Digest suggests there is scope already for greater engagement by ACCP and individual ASEAN member states particularly with the OECD initiative in this field. Part 5 also urges broader information-sharing as the OECD clearing-house expands over the next few years, as well as with product safety incident reporting systems already developed particularly in the EU and the United States (US).

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The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, with in-kind support from the global law firm Baker & McKenzie, will fund over 2014 this project involving also my colleague specialising in Chinese law, Prof Bing Ling.

[Background] Regional economic integration is proceeding apace. ASEAN aims to completely eliminate tariffs among 6 original (out of 10) member states by 2015, as part of developing an economic, political (security) and socio-cultural “community”. Yet it has also established an ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection, to avoid a regulatory “race to the bottom” along with this expansion of free trade. Since late 2012, ASEAN has also begun negotiating a “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” (RCEP) with Australia-NZ, Japan, China, Korea and India – leveraging off existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with each of those states. Consumer protection is likely to arise also in the context of RCEP, and even the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA (with negotiations already well advanced and involving many of the same states).

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On 8 June 2013 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Volkswagen Australia would be formally recalling Golf and other Volkswagen-made models that had suddenly lost power. The family of one driver and the driver of a truck that rear-ended her Golf vehicle are arguing before the coroner that this was a possible cause for her fatal accident. Over 300 other owners of Volkswagen-made vehicles have also reported problems. Similar concerns about some of Volkswagen’s direct-shift gearboxes had led to formal recalls of some models as early as 2009 in the USA, then in China, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan. However, Volkswagen reportedly stated that Australia does not have the same gearboxes, and instead had initially undertaken a program involving its dealers. Marketing experts have criticised the recall recently commenced in Australia, suggesting that Volkswagen will have suffered extensive damage to its brands by not acting publically earlier to address consumer concerns – in addition to the estimated $170m in direct repair costs.

It will probably come as no surprise that Volkswagen conducted recalls more promptly in the USA. Toyota suffered extensive adverse publicity there relating especially to problems instead involving sudden acceleration, generating recalls of over 10 million vehicles over 2009-2011 and a recently-finalised $1.6b class action settlement. Nor should it be surprising that Volkswagen undertook a recall in Japan. Japanese consumers have become increasingly sensitive about product safety issues, especially since 2000 - when Mitsubishi Motors was found to have been conducting illegal clandestine recalls over an extended period. The delay in Australia is disturbing, especially given the increased attention otherwise being paid to consumer protection since “re-harmonisation” pursuant to the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) reforms enacted in 2010.

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I am glad the High Court of Australia rejected today the argument by major tobacco companies that Australia’s plain packaging legislation is an unconstitutional “acquisition” of their rights. I dislike those companies’ products, their marketing and their litigation strategies, and I support the plain packaging legislation. I’ve also made numerous submissions to the Australian government since 2005 seeking to improve safety regulation for general consumer goods – partially achieved in the 2010 “Australian Consumer Law”.

But I hope that the ongoing arbitration claim of “expropriation”, initiated by Philip Morris Asia under the 1993 Hong Kong – Australia bilateral investment treaty, does not feed into blanket rejection of any forms of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in investment treaties. Although that system has flaws, it also has benefits, and there is ample scope to draft treaties to provide clear and appropriate mechanisms to balancing private and public interests. With others familiar with international investment law, I provide further examples of the most promising substantive and procedural law reforms in an Open Letter dated 28 July 2012, in response to a recent OECD Public Consultation on ISDS.

My comment will therefore address points made recently on The Conversation blog by Dr Kyla Tienhaara, who remains completely opposed to any form of ISDS. In fact, she urges the Gillard Government to try to excise ISDS from all Australia's existing FTAs and investment treaties (dating back to 1988), in addition to eschewing them for future treaties – as the Government seems to be attempting, pursuant to its policy shift on ISDS announced in the 2011 Trade Policy Statement (TPS). An alternative is for the Government to approach Hong Kong authorities to seek agreement on amending the 1993 treaty to suspend PMA’s pending claim. More generally, Australia should consider including ISDS provisions in future treaties but expressly reserve its right to agree with the treaty partner to suspend particular types of claims, for example regarding public health issues. This compromise approach is already essentially found in investment treaty practice where the claim involves allegations of “expropriatory taxation”.

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In an article published in the Zeitschrift für Japanisches Recht / Journal of Japanese Law [“Die Haftung für Nuklearschäden nach japanischem Atomrecht – Rechtsprobleme der Reaktorkatastrophe von Fukushima I” (Liability for Nuclear Damages pursuant to Japanese Atomic Law – Legal Problems Arising from the Fukushima I Nuclear Accident) (ZJapanR 31, 2011)] Julius Weitzdörfer, Research Associate with the Japan Unit of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law (and JSPS Visiting Researcher at Kyoto University Law Faculty), examines the legal challenges currently facing the Japanese judiciary, government and economy in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster. The article (in German along with an English abstract) can be downloaded here, and shorter summary by the author is reproduced below (from the MPI website).

Luke Nottage (also now at Kyoto University Law Faculty, as a Visiting Scholar over October-November) then adds a broader perspective on the disasters afflicting Japan since 11 March 2011, based on his presentation at Tohoku University in Sendai over 14-15 October.

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[A version of this posting also appeared on the The Conversation blog (28 July 2011) and then the East Asia Forum blog (30 July 2011). The former is 'an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the university and research sector' involving 'content support' from the Go8, including the University of Sydney.]

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was one of the first among world leaders to visit Japan, over 20-23 April, after the nation was stricken on 3 March by the ‘earthquake-tsunami-radiation triple disaster’. But the Australian government was tactful and realistic in not placing high priority on progressing bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Talks had resumed in Tokyo over 7-10 February 2011 after stalling for almost a year, but a lack of progress - particularly over agricultural market access - had then prompted respective Trade Ministers to call for a high-level political summit to regain momentum. The ‘3-11’ disaster generated more urgent priorities for the Japanese government. Indeed, reversing a commitment to decide this question by end-June, in May the Kan administration announced it would defer any decision about whether to join with the nine nations (including Australia) now negotiating an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

Nonetheless, Japan has some significant incentives to resume FTA negotiations with Australia in the wake of 3-11, although the road ahead still looks rocky.

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Imagine an international regime with these institutional features:

1. Virtually free trade in goods and services, including a "mutual recognition" system whereby compliance with regulatory requirements in one jurisdiction (eg qualifications to practice law or requirements to offering securities to the public) basically means exemption from compliance with regulations in the other jurisdiction. And for sensitive areas, such as food safety, there is a trans-national regulator.

2. Virtually free movement of capital, underpinned by private sector and governmental initiatives.

3. Permanent residence available to nationals from the other jurisdiction (and strong pressure to maintain flexible rules about multiple nationality).

4. Treaties for regulatory cooperation, simple enforcement of judgments (a court ruling in one jurisdiction is treated virtually identically to a ruling of a local court), and to avoid double taxation (including a system for taxpayer-initiated arbitration among the member states).

5. Government commitment to harmonising business law more widely, eg now for consumer and competition law.

No, the answer is not the obvious one: I am NOT talking about the European Union (EU). I am referring to the Trans-Tasman framework built up between Australia and New Zealand, particularly over the last decade, sometimes through treaties (binding in international law) but sometimes in softer ways (eg parallel legislation in each country). And since both countries are actively pursuing bilateral and now some regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), especially in the Asia-Pacific region, can't at least some of these Trans-Tasman initiatives become a template for a broader "Asia Pacific Community"?

This question is particularly timely as the new DPJ-led government in Japan, has declared its support not only for the WTO system but also for FTAs, particularly in the Asian region. It also advocates improvements in food and consumer product safety measures. Whether or not Australia is considered part of Asia, either by Japan or itself, the two countries are continuing bilateral FTA negotiations in the context of growing involvement in regional arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region. Such developments constitute one theme at the NZ Centre for International Economic Law conference, “Trade Agreements: Where Do We Go From Here?”, over 22-23 October 2009 in Wellington. Below is an edited introduction to my four-part paper, now available in further updated form as a Sydney Law School Research Paper. Powerpoint slides are also available in PDF here.

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All my blogs over July-October 2008, posted originally with full hyperlinks at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/], have been edited and updated as:

Nottage, Luke R., 'Economics, Politics, Public Policy and Law in Japan, Australasia and the Pacific: Corporate Governance, Financial Crisis, and Consumer Product Safety in 2008' (November 3, 2008) Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/134, Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1295064 (and forthcoming, early 2009, in Ritsumeikan Law Review)

Some of the individual topics focused more directly on Japanese Law, asterisked below, are also available on this USydney blog:

* 1. Taking the Australia-Japan FTA negotiations to new levels
* 2. Whaling: What can law add to science, economics, ethics and politics?
3. Australia also should ‘Rail at Australian’s Tabloid Trash’ about Japan
* 4. Consumer over-indebtedness in Japan, Australia and the US
* 5. Dodgy foods and Chinese dumplings in Japan
* 6. FDI and corporate governance in Japan
* 7. Investor-state arbitration for Indonesia, Australia and Japan
8. Rivals: China, India and Japan – economic, not Olympic?
* 9. The politics of Japan’s new Takeovers Guidelines
* 10. Tables turned in Japanese and US financial markets
* 11. Lessons from Japan for the US financial crisis
* 12. The financial crisis - and loansharks in Japan and NZ
* 13. Consequences of melamine-laced milk for China, NZ, Japan and beyond
14. Political dynasties in Japan, the US, Australia … but not NZ?
* 15. A New Consumer Agency for Japan?

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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