Improving the Effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety System: Australian Law Reform in Asia-Pacific Context

[This is the original draft blog for The Conversation, related to my ongoing ARC-funded joint research project DP170103136 and a paper this year (manuscript on SSRN.com here). A version will be presented and then discussed in the 1 December 2020 webinar for the International Association of Consumer Law (pre-recording available here).]

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our awareness of safety risks, but also the socio-economic costs to reduce them. Public health interventions can also collide with human rights and constitutional principles, and undermine state capacity. Australia’s policy-makers and regulators are still facing many difficult choices.

In consumer law, they and peak NGOs like Choice have been busy grappling with a range of pandemic-related issues. These range from hand sanitiser quality through to refunds for airfares and other travel services. Nonetheless, hopefully policy-makers can now get back to some unfinished business, as we learn to live with COVID-19 while praying for a vaccine or cure.

In October 2019 the Treasury released its Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) entitled “Improving the Effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety System”. This was part of a suite of reform initiatives agreed after the 2016-7 review of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which re-harmonised consumer rights and regulatory powers nationally from 2011.

The review’s Final Report and now the RIS considered adding to the ACL an EU-style “general safety provision”. European countries (such as the UK in 1987, then the EU from 1992), as well as Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia (1999), Canada (2010) and Singapore (2011, partially), have introduced such a GSP. It was discussed in several earlier government inquiries, notably by the Productivity Commission in 2006 and 2008, but the Commission concluded that the ACL should try some other measures first. A GSP would require manufacturers and importers to ensure that they only supply safe consumer products, otherwise risk public law sanctions from regulators.

Choice found that many Australians wrongly assume we already have this requirement. Yet the ACL currently only allows mandatory safety standards to be set pro-actively for specific types of general consumer products (currently around 40). Regulators can also issue bans (around 20) for products found unsafe, but this is a reactive response.

Also only after harm arises, manufacturers indirectly incentivised to supply safe products by harmed consumers potentially bringing strict liability compensation claims. But such ACL product liability claims, requiring individuals to prove a “safety defect”, are diminishing. Even large class action law firms prefer focusing resources on simpler claims by shareholders against companies for misleading conduct.

The Treasury’s draft RIS invited public comment on various reform options and three perceived problems. One problem was misunderstanding about the current ACL regime. A second was its largely reactive nature, impacting on regulatory interventions and supplier behaviour. A third was considerable harm from unsafe consumer products. The ACCC identified 780 deaths and 52000 injuries annually. It also estimated at least a $4.5 billion annual economic cost, assuming around a $200,000 “value of a statistical life year” for premature deaths and disability. There were also costs of $0.5 billion in direct hospital costs for governments, and further costs associated with minor injuries and consequential property loss.

My own Submission and a related peer-reviewed article added comparative empirical data in support of a GSP. First, the OECD Global Recalls portal shows that Australia reported higher per capita voluntary recalls over 2017-9 than Korea, the UK, Japan and the USA. Australia had a rate similar to Canada, but its legislation has a more expansive duty on suppliers to report product accidents to regulators compared to that added to the ACL. A large proportion of our recalls involve child products, mostly from China.

[Table 1: Comparing Australia’s Recalls (2017-9)]

Secondly, annual recalls have been growing in Australia, as pointed out by Catherine Niven et al (co-researchers for our ARC-funded project comparing child product safety) and various submissions by Choice. The uptick is noticeable from around 2012, tracking burgeoning e-commerce and more importers dealing with more manufacturers abroad.

[Figure 1: Australia’s Recalls (1998-2019)]

The USA instead had fewer recalls after introducing third-party conformity assessment for toy exporters after problems around 2008. Niven et al add that Australian recall notices do not need to include some significant information. Many Australian recalls of child products also involve breaches of the mandatory standards that have actually been set. Our regulators could try to sanction local suppliers more for that. But introducing a broader GSP, alongside some of the other RIS options and/or “product safety substantiation” power as discussed in my article, would encourage a “paradigm shift” needed among Australian firms.

Suppliers would need to think more carefully about (and document) safety assessments before putting consumer products on the market. This is more efficient and safer than releasing products and then trying to recall them after problems start to be reported, hoping not too many consumers get harmed. It would also encourage Australian firms to “trade up”, like counterparts overseas, to the standards expected in many of our trading partners.

[Luke Nottage receives funding from the Australian Research Council: DP170103136, “Evaluating consumer product regulatory responses to improve child safety”. He provides occasional pro bono advice to Choice regarding consumer law and policy reform, and acknowledges assistance from them in compiling what is reproduced here as Figure 1.]

Comparing Consumer Product Safety Law for New Markets and Technologies

In the context of changes in the consumer marketplace and regulatory frameworks locally and internationally, the Australian government is re-initiating public consultations about introducing an EU-style “General Safety Provision”. Although this requirement for suppliers pro-actively assess risks and put or keep only safe products products has also been introduced beyond Europe in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and (partly) Singapore, it has also not yet been introduced in Japan. However, Japan may have a better regulatory framework in other respects (eg mandatory accident reporting requirements on suppliers that extend to some “near misses”, along with public disclosure of such reports) and better enforcement (eg of mandatory safety standards for specific products).

Japanese courts also continue to generate more case law applying EU-style strict product liability, introduced by a 1994 Act, compared to an analogue introduced in 1992 in Australia (and increasingly in other parts of Asia, including many ASEAN states). This helps promote and clarify more indirect incentives on suppliers to source and provide safe products. However, such impact for product liability litigation is still constrained by issues such as effective access to justice / courts. This is evident from a recent book examining major EU and some other countries, reviewed below for the Journal of European Tort Law: Piotr Machnikowski (ed) European Product Liability: An Analysis of the State of the Art in the Era of New Technologies (Intersentia, Cambridge, 2016, ISBN 978-1-78068-398-0, ix+705pp):

This is a very useful reference book especially for academic researchers and legal practitioners, but also policy-makers or law reformers, as it compares product liability law and practice across 12 countries in Europe as well as five other countries. A key question is whether the 1985 product liability (PL) Directive (85/374/EEC), compensating consumers for physical harm as well as certain consequential property losses caused by product safety defects, remains “fit for purpose” – especially given the proliferation of new technologies.

The Introduction by Machnikowski succinctly outlines those as including: mobile internet (smartphones, tablets etc), the automation of knowledge work, the “internet of things” (such as connected home appliances), cloud technology, advanced robotics, autonomous vehicles, next-generation genomics and regenerative medicine, advanced materials (eg through nanotechnology), energy storage, advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery, renewable energy sources, and 3D printing (pp3-8). He explains how these technologies require us to reconceptualise the role of substantive private law, as they often have global reach and prompt calls for public regulation. The new technologies also strain the capacity of the legal system to respond quickly and effectively. They often implicate intellectual property and services rather htan movable or tangible products, and networks of suppliers rather than just manufacturers and some specified intermediaries, as primarily envisaged by the PL Directive. The new technologies raise questions about its focus on product defects linked to physical safety (rather than infringements of privacy or non-economic rights and interests), the exemption from liability usually provided for “development risks” (the no-one-could-have-known defence), attributing causation, and the scope of (potentially catastrophic) damages claimable. The book therefore aims to analyse how conventional PL law is or could be addressing such questions, as well as how PL law interacts with other areas of tort law and public regulation (pp 8-13).

The volume compares the law of European Union member states selected from both the “Old” and “New” Europe (Austria**, the Czech Republic, Denmark*, England*, France**, Germany**, Italy*, the Netherlands*, Norway*, Poland and Spain) and the European Economic Area (Norway) as well as Switzerland. It therefore reviews legal systems in the “Roman, German, common law and Nordic traditions”, along with “two important common law traditions from outside Europe (USA** and Canada*) as well as two mixed jurisdictions (Israel* and South Africa” (pp 13-14). The back cover blurb adds that this hefty book “is the result of an extensive international research project funded by the Polish National Science Centre. It brings together experienced scholars associated with the European Group on Tort law (EGTL) and the European Research Group on Existing EC Private Law (Acquis Group) … The country reports show that the practical significance of product liability differs widely in the various Member States”.

The preceding paragraph above tries to give a sense of this variable significance of PL law by indicating with an asterix (*) or double asterix (**) those countries where there is respectively extensive or very extensive litigation and case law; those without any asterix are countries where lawsuits reportedly remain rare. This rough appraisal is derived mainly from each country report’s concluding Part X (Assessment of Domestic Law), except for the chapter on Spain (lacking Part X), as well as each chapter’s respective Part IX (Alternative Regulations and Remedies) and Part VIII (Procedural and Evidential Issues). The comparison reinforces the well-established general proposition that it is factors beyond reforms to substantive PL law, even the shift from negligence-based to strict liability under the 1985 Directive model (inspired by some earlier US case law), which primarily generate lawsuits and therefore case law that might offer more guidance on what constitutes appropriate safety for consumer products.[1]

The country reports identify (sometimes overlapping) factors arguably impacting on whether or not PL law is extensively litigated:

  • effectively enforced public regulation preventing harmful products coming on the market (also in Norway, per Askeland, p 375), and strong social welfare or insurance schemes (eg in Denmark, per Holle and Mogelvang-Hansen, pp 171-2);
  • expenses in accessing evidence, and lawyers open to contingency fees, compared to non-legal dispute resolution avenues (in England, per Oliphant and Wilcox, p 203);
  • linking of civil with criminal proceedings to ease plaintiffs’ evidentiary burden (in France, per Borghetti, p235);[2]
  • scope of claimable damages (with lawsuits under PL Directive implementing legislation only really since a 2002 amendment allowing claims also for pain and suffering in Germany, per Magnus, p 272);
  • reversed burden of proof under still more familiar Civil Code negligence provisions in Italy, per Comande, pp 307-8);
  • quite predictable law (facilitating settlements), business reputation, products (like mobile phones) bundled with services facilitating claims against direct suppliers rather than manufacturers (in the Netherlands, per Keirse – but noting that general tort law has also become stricter: pp 355-6);
  • unpredictability in civil processes and litigation outcomes due to limited legal aid, variability in lawyers’ fees, high litigation costs, the “loser pays principle”, complex and lengthy procedures, problems with experts and judicial methodologies, and unclear standard of proof (p 404, per Baginska);
  • “almost impenetrable” commentary with very limited case law (in Switzerland, per Winiger, pp 477-8);
  • potential claims versus regulators and perhaps related compensation schemes, as well as class actions (in Canada, per Arbour, pp 513-9);
  • no-fault liability schemes precluding personal injury claims for defects in automobiles, and comparative ease of suing actors (eg doctors or employers) than manufacturers of potentially unsafe products (in Israel, per Gilead, p 544).

Each country report also succinctly sets out Parts dealing with “Sources of Law”, “Basic Elements of Liability”, “The Person Liable for Damage”, “The Aggrieved Person and Damage”, “Causality”, “Defences and Exclusions”, and “Remedies”. This structure facilitates easy comparisons on points of interest (eg on the extent to which an intermediate supplier might have contributed sufficiently to be deemed a joint “manufacturer”[3]), although it would have been helpful for the book to add an Index.

Especially for the (many) countries where case law is sparse, the country reporters do not delve into great detail about the potential applicability of especially Directive-based PL law to the various new technologies (but see Austria, per Koch, p 147). However, in his Conclusions, Machinowki nonetheless includes a very interesting analysis that can be seen as challenging the “Adequacy of the European Product Liability Regime for Threats Posed by New Technologies”, focusing on what should now constitute a “product”, “defect”, “development risks”, the “entity liable for composite products”, and appropriate “time limits”, as well as generally the “possible development paths for product liability law” (pp 691-705). Readers familiar with PL law could perhaps begin the book here, at the end. For particular points of interest, they can cross-reference to the detailed and authoritative commentary on the “Product Liability Directive” itself (pp 17-108) co-authored by Fairgrieve, Howells, Machinowski and five others. That will also be essential background reading for those less familiar with PL law. Academics and policy-makers, rather than practitioners, may also find some related insights in the penultimate chapter by Faure, setting out a rather general “Economic Analysis of Product Liability” (pp 619-65).


Overall, this is a very well conceived and executed comparative reference book that can be highly recommended, especially for those interested in PL law in the context of proliferating new technologies. A second edition or companion volume might usefully extend the analysis to other European countries as well as those, especially in the Asian region, that have increasingly adopted the PL Directive approach – often with more pro-plaintiff innovations.[4] However, other than Japan and Australia to some extent, these Asian countries have so far even less case law and related commentary that may help guide them as well in addressing emergent consumer product safety issues.


[1] Matthias Reimann, “Liability for Defective Products at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century: Emergence of a Worldwide Standards?”, 51 American Journal of Comparative Law, 751-38 (2003). For a recent illustration, showing almost no lawsuits filed in five Southeast Asian countries that have adopted Directive-style PL legislation, except in Thailand thanks to contemporaneous  legislation facilitating consumer claims through regular courts, see Luke Nottage and Sakda Thanitcul, “Economic Integration and Consumer Protection in Southeast Asia: ASEAN Product Liability Law and Safety Regulation” in ibid (eds) ASEAN Product Liability and Consumer Product Safety Law (Winyuchon, Bangkok, 2016), available via https://ssrn.com/abstract=2703130.

[2] On the synergies between civil and criminal proceedings in medical malpractice and (especially mass tort) PL claims in Japan, see also respectively Robert Leflar, “Medical Error as Reportable Event, as Tort, as Crime: A Transpacific Comparison” 22 Journal of Japanese Law 39-76 (2005) available at https://www.zjapanr.de/index.php/zjapanr/article/view/478/503; and Luke Nottage, Product Safety and Liability Law in Japan (Routledge, 2004) especially ch3.

[3] See a class action settlement regarding imported soy milk, approved by the Victorian Supreme Court, which might have had otherwise to rule on this point under either Australian or Japanese law (both incorporating variants of the PL Directive since the early 1990s): Erin Downie v Spiral Foods Pty Ltd and Others [2015] VSC 190, available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VSC/2015/190.html.

[4] See also Luke Nottage, Justin Malbon, Jeannie Paterson and Caron Beaton-Wells, ASEAN Consumer Law Harmonisation and Cooperation (Cambridge University Press, Singapore, 2020) especially ch3; Geraint Howells, Hans Micklitz et al (eds) Consumer Law in Asia (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2021).

Guest blog: review of “ASEAN product safety law”

Written by: Prof Sothi Rachagan (Vice-Chancellor, Nilal University, Malaysia)
[Prof Rachagan, doyen of consumer law and policy studies in Southeast Asia, has kindly provided the following review of my conference volume co-edited with Chula Uni Prof Sakda Thanitcul, published by Winyuchon (Bangkok) in 2016 in English plus Thai translation, with a version of the introductory chapter available here.]

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Reforming Product Safety Law: Good and Bad News from the Australian Consumer Law Review

Written by: Luke Nottage and Catherine Niven
In 2008, as consumer confidence in Australia took a big hit from the Global Financial Crisis, the Productivity Commission published a report advising the federal Treasurer to lead a belated “re-harmonisation” of consumer protection law. The State and Territory governments agreed to enact substantive provisions mirroring those legislated by the federal Government, thus creating a uniform “Australian Consumer Law” (ACL) in force nation-wide from 2011.
This reform project was mainly “sold” as saving transaction costs for businesses domestically, but also in their dealings with overseas markets that have also been “trading up” to higher standards of consumer protection law (including now ASEAN). As such, for example, all Australian jurisdictions introduced general provisions voiding unfair contract terms along the model adopted by the European Union (EU) in 1993, following the lead of Victoria in 2003. More directly impacting on consumer product safety, the ACL added a novel reporting requirement that suppliers notify the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about serious product-related accidents, introduced already in 2001 by the EU – albeit in more expansive form.
In addition, the Australian governments also agreed to review the operation of the ACL after five years. In March 2017, with little fanfare, officials in “Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand” (CAANZ) released a Final Report including recommendations for ACL reform. They include mixed blessings for enhancing consumer safety law.

Continue reading “Reforming Product Safety Law: Good and Bad News from the Australian Consumer Law Review”

Book Review – Celeste Arrington “Accidental Activists: Victim Movements and Government Accountability in Japan and South Korea” (Cornell University Press, 2016)

This extensively researched and succinctly written book effectively compares the processes and outcomes of several major movements for victims’ redress from governments in Japan and Korea. The focus is on campaigns that developed especially from the 1990s, an era of perceived “judicialization of politics, enabled by democratization in Korea in 1987 and more competitive electoral politics in Japan since 1993” (p. 203), when victims sought redress for poor decisions regarding Hansen’s disease (leprosy, as discussed in ch. 3), blood tainted with Hepatitis C (ch. 4) and abductions by North Korean authorities (ch. 5).
Arrington examines not just the respective victims’ contestations with the state, but also the nature and timing of their interactions with key mediating institutions (ch. 2): the legal profession (to pursue litigation), the media (providing publicity for their causes), and activist groups (for lobbying). In particular, she emphases how too much early engagement with politicians – even “elite allies” – aimed at achieving legislative or bureaucratic intervention, as occurs more in Korea’s more open-textured democratic process, may lead perversely to poorer redress outcomes as the issue becomes more polarised politically.

Continue reading “Book Review – Celeste Arrington “Accidental Activists: Victim Movements and Government Accountability in Japan and South Korea” (Cornell University Press, 2016)”

Symposium: Consumer and Contract Law Reform in Asia

Private law and regulatory frameworks impacting on consumer protection are being reformed in many parts of Asia, the world economy’s fastest-growing region. This development is important for Australian exporters and outbound investors, as well as policy-makers engaged over 2016 in a five-yearly review of the Australian Consumer Law. [My Submission to that inquiry is here – Download file]
This symposium on 10 August 2016, hosted by the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS) with support from the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), brings together experts from around the Asian region to outline and compare reform initiatives achieved or underway in consumer law as well as contract law more generally. [On 12 August at UNSW, ANJeL is also supporting a symposium on “Democracy, Pacificism & Constitutional Change: Amending Article 9?”: the draft program is here – Download file.]

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New Year and New Books on Asian Law – Consumer Law and Corporate Governance

Happy New Year of the Monkey! I am also pleased to report that two new books will be forthcoming.
One is co-edited by Chulalongkorn University Law Faculty (and immediate past Dean) Prof Sakda Thanitcul, who like me studied for an LLD at Kyoto University (but, unlike myself, persevered and obtained the degree there, as well as another PhD from the University of Washington). Entitled “ASEAN Product Liability and Consumer Product Safety Law”, this volume adds the editors’ introduction plus two other general chapters to ten country reports presented and discussed at a major international conference held late July 2015 in Bangkok, funded by Chulalongkorn University’s ASEAN Studies Centre and hosted at Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce facilities. Thanks also to publication support from the Centre as well as the Sydney Southeast Asian Centre (SSEAC), complimentary copies of the English version will be distributed to delegates at the 2nd ASEAN Consumer Protection conference, also being held in Bangkok over 14-15 December (see here for my co-authored volume of Policy Digests & Case Studies for that conference, and Volume 1 tabled at the 1st conference in Hanoi a year earlier). In addition, the book will be translated and published in Thai in early 2016, through Thailand’s leading legal publisher (Winyuchon), to reach a broader audience at reasonable cost. With priority to national and international regulators and NGOs, other complimentary copies of the English version are available on request, to assist in the important and ongoing task of harmonising and strengthening consumer law and enforcement, amidst major trade and investment liberalisation initiatives underway in the region – including now the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA. The editors’ introductory chapter is also freely downloadable via SSRN.com, and Prof Sakda will be visiting the University of Sydney in late July 2016 thanks to further support from SSEAC. Bios for all contributors to this book are listed below.*
Southeast Asia has long been known as a particularly dynamic part of the global economy. In 2007 the leaders of the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations further agreed to accelerate the project to complete a single market or “ASEAN Economic Community” by the end of 2015. Less well known is that their blueprint also committed to improve and harmonise consumer law, to prevent a “regulatory race to the bottom”. A new Committee has encouraged member states to enact strict product liability regimes (as in Australia, Japan and the EU) aimed at making it easier for consumers (and sometimes even businesses) to be compensated for harms suffered from unsafe products. ASEAN states have also introduced new or revised laws allowing regulators to set mandatory safety standards before products are put into circulation, and to enforce post-market controls such as bans and recalls of unsafe products.
The second new book is on “Independent Directors in Asia”, co-edited for Cambridge University Press with ANJeL stalwarts Profs Harald Baum (MPI Hamburg), Souichirou Kozuka (Gakushuin, Tokyo) and Dan Puchniak (NUS). As previously mentioned on this Blog, contributions have been extensively workshopped at major conferences in Berlin and then Singapore, as well as by individual authors in other forums. A longer version of the chapter comparing Australia, which I co-authored with Fady Aoun, is also forthcoming in early 2016 from the University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review. Core aspects of corporate governance in Asia provides essential backdrop to firms’ dealings with consumers as well as their cross-border engagement facilitated nowadays through FTAs.
* LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS to the ASEAN Product Liability and Consumer Product Safety book:
RIZA BUDITOMO
Riza Buditomo is an Associate Partner in the Corporate & Securities practice group of Hadiputranto, Hadinoto and Partners (member firm of Baker & McKenzie). He graduated from the University of Indonesia with a B.A. Law in 2004, and Accounting Diploma in 2002. With an educational background in accounting and tax as well as law, Riza focuses on corporate/commercial, trade and tax work. This includes consumer protection, export/import, food industry, and anti-dumping issues. He has also been involved in several due diligence projects for acquisitions and mergers, drafting legal due diligence reports, providing various types of legal advice and assisting major clients in a number of high profile transactions. Riza is admitted in Indonesian Courts including the Tax Court. Riza is also a certified customs consultant.
RUMONDANG SARI DEWI
Rumondang Sari Dewi is an Associate in the Corporate & Securities practice group of Hadiputranto, Hadinoto and Partners. She graduated from the University of Padjadjaran with a B.A. Law in 2009. She has been involved in assisting and advising clients in various corporate and trade matters. She also has experience assisting clients in dealing with government authorities on licenses and approvals.
SORNPHETH DOUANGDY
Sornpheth Douangdy is Associate Director in charge of both legal and tax services at PricewaterhouseCoopers (Lao) Company Limited. Prior to working at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he was the Deputy Head of the Law Research Division in the Law research and International Cooperation Institute and the Ministry of Justice in Lao; Deputy Head of the Law Research Division in the Law Research Centre at the Ministry of Justice; a member of the Civil Law Working Group to prepare the Civil law Textbook and to amend Contract Law, Tort Law, and Law on Economic Arbitration Organisation; a lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at the Law Colleges; the co-ordinator of Ministry of Justice to the UNODC; a member of the secretariat team to implement the UN Convention against Corruption; and a judge of Saysettha Court, Vientiane. Sornpheth holds a bachelor degree from the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the National University of Laos, and a post-graduate Business Law and Commercial Law degree from Curtin University of Technology, Australia.
GERAINT HOWELLS
Geraint Howells is Chair Professor of Commercial Law and Dean of the Law School at City University of Hong Kong; barrister at Gough Square Chambers, London (though not currently practising) and former President of the International Association of Consumer Law. He previously held chairs at Sheffield, Lancaster and Manchester and has been head of law schools at Lancaster and Manchester. His books include Comparative Product Liability, Consumer Product Safety, Consumer Protection Law, EC Consumer Law, Product Liability, European Fair Trading Law, Handbook of Research on International Consumer Law and The Tobacco Challenge. He has undertaken extensive consultancy work for the EU and UK government as well as for NGOs.
JOCELYN KELLAM
Dr Jocelyn Kellam has a particular interest in product liability in the Asia Pacific. Previously a partner with one of Australia’s national law firms and an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Sydney she holds a PhD (USydney) and LLM (Tuebingen) in comparative product liability law. Jocelyn is the general editor of a comparative text, Product Liability in the Asia Pacific (Federation Press, 3rd ed 2009), and the former general editor of the Australian Product Liability Reporter.
KHIN MAR YEE
Khin Mar Yee (LLB, LLM, PhD) is Professor and Head of the Department of Law, University of Yangon. Her teaching and research interests include international trade law, intellectual property law and the Law of the Sea.
JOHN KING
John E King is a partner in Tilleke & Gibbins, heading the firm’s Cambodia practice in Phnom Penh. He is supported by a strong team of local Khmer advisors and the international expertise of the firm’s offices across Southeast Asia to provide advice that is tailored to the franchising, life sciences, and technology sectors. John previously led the firm’s Dispute Resolution Department for several years, and he played a central role in building Tilleke & Gibbins’ Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offices, where he served as managing director from 2007 to 2010.
John is a US-licensed attorney, and a founding member of the Thailand branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He earned his Juris Doctor (JD) with high distinction (magna cum laude and Order of the Coif) from the University of Minnesota, and he practiced banking and finance law at Leonard, Street & Deinard, a leading U.S. law firm, prior to joining Tilleke & Gibbins.
DYAN DANIKA LIM
Dyan Danika Lim (BS, JD) specialises in energy, gas, oil, telecommunications & public utilities litigation and alternative dispute resolution with a particular interest in domestic and international arbitration and cross border litigation. She also handles product liability cases. She is currently an Associate Solicitor at the Office of the Solicitor General of the Philippines and a Professor at the De La Salle University, College of Law. Prior to joining the government, she worked as a Senior Associate at the Litigation and Dispute Resolution department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices. She is a member of the UP Women Lawyer’s Circle and the Young International Arbitration Group.
LIM CHEE WEE
Chee Wee graduated from the University of New South Wales in Australia with LLB and BComm (Accounting) degrees. He was called to the Malaysian Bar as an Advocate and Solicitor in the High Court of Malaya in 1993 and started practising in SKRINE, where he became a partner in 2001. Chee Wee is the immediate past president of the Malaysian Bar.
Chee Wee has a broad commercial practice. He also has an established public and administrative law practice, having regularly advised and acted as Counsel for the Malaysian stock exchange and another regulator. His other areas of practice encompass banking, construction and engineering, land law, reinsurance, trusts and partnership disputes. He is listed in various international legal directories as a leading individual for dispute resolution.
LY TAYSENG
Managing Director of HBS Law, Attorney-at-law and Member of the Council of Jurists of the Council of Ministers of the Royal Government of Cambodia
NG HUI MIN
Ng Hui Min is a partner in Rodyk & Davidson LLP’s Litigation & Arbitration Practice Group. Hui Min graduated from National University of Singapore in 2006 and was admitted to the Singapore Bar as an Advocate & Solicitor in Singapore in May 2007. Hui Min is effectively bilingual in English and Chinese, and her main areas of practice encompass commercial litigation, corporate and investment disputes litigation, insolvency cases and employment disputes. She represents and advises companies and individuals on a wide array of commercial issues including commodities disputes, international sale of goods, directors’ duties, and shareholders’ disputes.
In her practice, Hui Min has represented companies on contractual disputes in the oil and gas industry as well as in the commodities industry where she has dealt with issues ranging from breach of warranty to claims under guarantees. Hui Min has also acted for companies in international arbitrations with respect to claims associated with international trade including commodities disputes. Hui Min has also acted for a variety of clients in employment matters, and possesses particular expertise in the area of confidentiality and restrictive covenants. In her insolvency practice, Hui Min has advised and acted for shareholders of companies where she has dealt with issues which include directors’ breach of fiduciary duties and deadlock between directors leading to a winding up of companies.
LUKE NOTTAGE
Dr Luke Nottage specialises in contract law, consumer product safety law, corporate governance and international arbitration, with a particular interest in the Asia-Pacific region. He is Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law at Sydney Law School, founding Co-Director of the Australian Network for Japanese Law (sydney.edu.au/law/anjel), and Associate Director of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS). Luke’s 11 books include International Arbitration in Australia (Federation Press, 2010), and Foreign Investment and Dispute Resolution Law and Practice in Asia (Routledge, 2011). He is an ACICA Special Associate and founding member of the Rules drafting committee, the Australasian Forum for International Arbitration council’s Japan Representative, and on the panel of arbitrators for the BAC, JCAA, KCAB and KLRCA. Luke has also consulted for law firms world-wide, ASEAN, the EC, OECD, UNCTAD, UNDP and the Japanese government, and is Managing Director of Japanese Law Links Pty Ltd (www.japaneselawlinks.com).
COLIN ONG
Dr Colin Ong is a practising member of the Brunei, English and Singapore Bars. He has acted as arbitrator or as counsel in many commercial and investment arbitrations under most major rules of arbitration governed under Civil and Common Law. He is a Chartered Arbitrator and a Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple. He is or has been a Visiting Professor at various universities, including the University of Hong Kong; Universitas Indonesia; King’s College (University of London); University of Malaya; Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; Universitas Indonesia; Queen Mary (University of London); Padjadjaran University (Indonesia); and National University of Singapore. He is the author of several arbitration and law books and is an editorial board member of various legal journals including Arbitration (CIArb); Business Law International; Butterworths Journal of International Banking & Financial Law; Dispute Resolution International; and Maritime Risk International.
He currently holds various positions including President, Arbitration Association Brunei Darussalam; Advisory Board, BANI (Indonesia); Board, Cambodia National Commercial Arbitration Centre; Advisor to China-ASEAN Legal Research Center; ICC Commission on Arbitration; and ICCA-Queen Mary Task Force (Costs and Security for Costs). He was a Former Principal Legal Consultant, ASEAN Centre for Energy; Panel Member (Brunei Darussalam nominee) of the ASEAN Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism; and Former Vice President of the LCIA (Asia-Pacific Users’ Committee).
PATRICIA-ANN T PRODIGALIDAD
Patricia-Ann T Prodigalidad (BS, LLB, LLM) is a Partner of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department of Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW). Ms Prodigalidad specializes primarily in commercial litigation (intra-corporate disputes; banking, investments and securities litigation; corporate rehabilitation and insolvency) and criminal matters relating to corporate activity (including white collar and other business-related crimes; anti-money laundering; anti-corruption and other FCPA issues), with particular focus on cross-border issues. She likewise practices extensively in the fields of international commercial and construction arbitration as well as product liability and antitrust litigation. Ms Prodigalidad also acts as an arbitrator in international commercial and domestic arbitration, both institutional and ad hoc. In 2013, Ms Prodigalidad passed the Fédéracion Internationale Des Ingénieurs-Conseils [FIDIC] Dispute Board Adjudicator Assessment Workshop sponsored by FIDIC and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and was one of four (4) Philippine delegates accredited as a dispute board adjudicator. Leveraging on her science degree, Ms. Prodigalidad has successfully handled environmental law cases.
Ms Prodigalidad, a prolific author, obtained her Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the Philippines, cum laude, graduating class salutatorian. She then topped (ranked 1st in) the 1996 Philippine Bar Examinations. In 2004, she obtained her master’s degree in law from the Harvard Law School. Ms. Prodigalidad is a member of various professional domestic and international organizations and serves as trustee of the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center, Inc, the UP Women Lawyers’ Circle and Harvard Law School Alumni Association. She is currently the National Secretary of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the countrywide organization of all lawyers in the Philippines.
LAWRENCE TEH
Lawrence Teh is a partner in Rodyk & Davidson LLP’s Litigation & Arbitration Practice Group. Lawrence advises clients and acts as an advocate in all areas of commercial law and appears regularly as leading counsel in the Singapore Courts, in arbitration and in other forms of dispute resolution. He is also appointed regularly as an arbitrator in international disputes. He has particular experience in international trade and commodities, maritime and aviation, banking and financial services, onshore and offshore construction, mergers acquisitions joint ventures and other investments, and insurance in related fields.
Lawrence is currently the Chairman of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Committee at The Law Society of Singapore. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a Fellow of the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators, and a panel arbitrator at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. He chaired the committee that drafted the Law Society Arbitration Rules and is a panel arbitrator of the Law Society Arbitration Scheme. Recently, he was appointed the Administrator of the Comite Maritime International (CMI) in 2013, and Chairman of the Promotion Committee of the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). He is also a Council Member of the Legal Practice Division in the International Bar Association (IBA). He is named in numerous legal guides and directories including the Asia Pacific Legal 500, International Who’s Who for Commercial Litigation, International Who’s Who of Shipping & Maritime, Asialaw Leading Lawyers for Shipping, Maritime & Aviation and on the Guide to the World’s Leading Aviation Lawyers.
SAKDA THANITCUL
Dr Sakda Thanitcul is Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok. He earned his LLB from Chulalongkorn University, LLM and PhD (Law) from University of Washington School of Law and also LLM and LLD from Kyoto University. He was a member of the advisory team to the chief negotiators of the US-Thailand FTA and the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement. His recent publications include “Thailand
(co-author with R. Ian McEwin) in Mark Williams (ed), The Political Economy of Competition Law in Asia (Hart Publishing, 2011), pp 279-291, “Thailand” (co-author with R Ian McEwin) in Mark Williams (ed.), The Political Economy of Competition Law in Asia (Edward Elgar, 2013), pp 251-282, “Compulsory licensing of chronic disease pharmaceuticals in Thailand” (co-author with Matthew L Braslow), (2014) 37(3) Thai Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 106-120.
TU NGOC TRINH
Tu Ngoc Trinh is a licensed attorney in Vietnam and a member of the Tilleke & Gibbins corporate & commercial team in the firm’s Hanoi office. Her practice focuses on the life sciences sector as well as general corporate matters including company formation, employment, franchise activities, commercial transactions, and mergers and acquisitions. Tu is committed to helping her clients achieve sustainable success in Vietnam. She is a member of the Hanoi Bar Association and the Vietnam Bar Federation.

Free Trade (Agreements) Enhancing Consumer Protection in Southeast Asia

[A version of this posting appears on the East Asia Forum blog.]
Those opposed nowadays to greater economic integration through the WTO or free trade agreements typically assume that this will undermine consumer protection, especially due to more unsafe goods coming into local markets. But as David Vogel documented in the mid-1990s for the US, we often find “trading up” to higher safety standards. Partly this is because exporters may need to improve safety features to comply with requirements set by public or private law in the destination country. It is then often inefficient to remove such features for products also sold into local markets, where requirements may initially be lower, or if features are removed consumers and regulators in local markets will more readily press for local safety standards to be raised.
FTAs and other international agreements can also facilitate enactment of better consumer product safety laws. The EU was an early example. In 1979, the Treaty of Rome was interpreted to require “mutual recognition”: goods produced to safety standards required in one EU country would be deemed to satisfy standards in an importing country. But to avoid a “regulatory race to the bottom”, the EU also developed a new and more effective approach to setting joint minimum safety standards.
Intriguingly, Southeast Asia is experiencing similar developments. …

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Developing ASEAN Recall Guidelines for Consumer Products

[The following is a longer and un-footnoted draft of a sixth Policy Digest prepared for a Sydney Southeast Asia Centre joint research project and an ASEAN Secretariat project on harmonising consumer protection law.]
1. Introduction
Recalling or withdrawing consumer products from the marketplace or taking other “corrective action” regarding actually or potentially unsafe or sub-standard products are important parts of consumer law and practice. Manufacturers and other suppliers can be incentivized to monitor the ongoing safety of their products after delivery into the supply chain for consumers, and then undertake corrective action to minimize harm, by private law mechanisms (such as tort claims for negligence brought by consumers) or reputational considerations (loss of customer goodwill etc). However, especially in developing countries experiencing problems with access to justice through the courts or limited media or NGO activity with respect to consumer affairs, public regulation relating to recalls has become significant.
National laws in ASEAN Member States (AMSs) mostly now provide for regulators to require suppliers to undertake mandatory recalls, under specific legislation enacted for (higher-risk) sectors such as automobiles, health products or foods, and/or under general consumer protection laws. In the shadow of such powers, regulators can also more effectively encourage or negotiate with suppliers to undertake (semi-)voluntary recalls. Sometimes suppliers even decide to undertake (purely) voluntary recalls, even without prior consultation with regulators or knowing their extent of their mandatory recall powers.
However, AMSs still lack general consumer protection laws that oblige suppliers to notify regulators when they undertake such voluntary recalls, as required by amendments in 1986 in Australia and 2013 in New Zealand. Nor do such laws in AMSs impose a broader product accident or hazard reporting duty on suppliers, even if the latter have not yet initiated a recall, as required in Australia since 2010 as well as the EU since 2001, Japan since 2006, Canada since 2010, and the US. Both types of obligations can encourage and assist suppliers to undertake recalls more effectively, through drawing on the technical expertise and communication networks of the consumer regulators.
Especially if AMSs take the first step of amending their national consumer protection laws to require suppliers to notify regulators about voluntary recalls, but even now given the mandatory recall powers generally available to regulators, it becomes important to define what is meant “recall” or whatever broader term (like “corrective action”) may be used in the relevant legislation, and provide guidance on when and how to undertake such remedial action effectively. In many major economies that have introduced duties on suppliers to make disclosures to regulators, on top of legislation providing for the latter’s back-up powers to order mandatory recalls, guidelines have recently been published or updated that elaborate quite extensively on rather sparse legislative provisions relating to recalls. These include quite detailed guidelines or handbooks publicized recently by authorities in the EU, the US, Australia, and Japan (although only in Japanese). By contrast, there is little publically-available guidance provided in AMSs. For example, the “Guidelines on Product Defect Reporting and Recall Procedures” are issued by the Health Sciences Authority of Singapore as a relatively short (undated) webpage, and anyway only relate to health products.
This Policy Digest therefore compares such recent guidance materials to identify key components and features that might be elaborated into “ASEAN Recall Guidelines” for consumer products generally. Although aimed primarily at suppliers and regulators, facilitating also evolving information-sharing platforms such as the ASEAN Product Alert website assembling national reports on some mandatory and voluntary recalls, such Guidelines aim also to benefit consumers. Accordingly, peak consumer associations or relevant NGOs should be closely consulted in elaborating such ASEAN Recall Guidelines.

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Cosmetics regulation under national and ASEAN law

[The following is a longer and un-footnoted draft of a fifth Policy Digest prepared for a Sydney Southeast Asia Centre joint research project and an ASEAN Secretariat project on harmonising consumer protection law. It is highly relevant also to Japan in light of Kanebo’s large-scale recall of some of its skin-whitening products across the region as well as in Japan in 2013.]
1. Introduction
Consumer goods associated with higher risks, and often also extent of harm, tend to generate public regulatory interventions. Food is one example, for which nation states have often legislation quite early on. However, national legislation and implementation is increasingly impacted by international law, particularly World Trade Organization (WTO) or bilateral and regional free trade agreements agreements insist that food safety measures be based on rational and proportionate public health risk assessments, and not constitute disguised trade barriers. This is facilitated by such agreements expressly stating such requirements will be presumed to be satisfied if the national measures are based on food standards agreed in the Codex Alimentarius, administered by two United Nations bodies. The Codex process has remained relatively unpoliticised, based instead on scientific risk assessments, partly because most countries both export and import foods but also because food is a necessity for everyone. This backdrop has also made it easier for other international and regional bodies, including ASEAN and APEC, to collaborate with national regulators and the private sector to develop shared food safety standards in Southeast Asia and world-wide.
Pharmaceuticals and, more recently and in a less interventionist way, cosmetics (goods without, necessarily, any medicinal properties) have also tended to generate regulatory regimes at the national level. At the international level, however, the WTO’s 1994 Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement does not expressly create a presumption of conformity from adhering to standards set by specified bodies, when national regulators introduce measures applicable to imports. There is no counterpart to the Codex process; different countries and regions maintain more disparate approaches to assessing and regulating non-food sectors, partly because they may not be exporting as much as importing certain types of goods.
Overall, moreover, the United States (US) often adopts more lenient regulatory regimes compared to the European Union (EU). This is particularly noticeable with respect to cosmetics: the US relies much more on voluntary industry self-regulation (plus more threat of private lawsuits for product liability), whereas the EU favours more interventionist public regulation. Nonetheless, the EU’s 1976 Cosmetics Directive aimed to balance consumer protection with harmonized standards to facilitate cross-border trade, especially within and into Europe. Because the regulatory regime remains stricter than in the US, and EU’s cosmetics manufacturers are more likely to sell into the more regulated European markets than American manufacturers, the EU can also support European manufacturers by encouraging countries and regions in other parts of the world to “trade up” to the EU rather than laxer US regulatory approach, when developing their own laws and practices. Already, by 2004, the lists of ingredients set under the 1976 EU Cosmetics Directive had been adopted by 30 countries, including countries in South America party to the Mercosur and Andean Pact regional arrangements. Other countries, including China and India, have reproduced significant features of the EU model.
Furthermore, although this is not widely known, the EU model has been adopted in Southeast Asia through the “Agreement on the ASEAN Harmonized Cosmetics Regulatory Scheme”. This was signed in 2003 to advance the ASEAN Free Trade Area program, albeit also against the backdrop of the WTO’s TBT Agreement. Schedule A creates the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement of Product Registration Approvals for Cosmetics, allowing individual ASEAN Member States (AMSs) to agree with other AMSs to allow, without further requirements, the import of products that satisfy the regulatory requirements of the other state(s). However, any such mutual recognition agreements (anyway possible under the TBT Agreement) were envisaged as a temporary step towards harmonizing cosmetics regulation in the region. More importantly, under the 2003 Agreement (Art 2(3)) the AMSs committed to implement by 1 January 2008 the “ASEAN Cosmetics Directive” (ACD) set out in Schedule B. This closely tracks the EU Directive, including by requiring the AMSs to “adopt the Cosmetics Ingredients Listings of the EU Cosmetics Directive 76/768/EEC including the latest amendments”. Supported by the ASEAN-EU Programme for Regional Integration Support, by early 2008 six AMSs had started implementing the ASEAN Directive into their national laws, followed by Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar a year and half later, and finally Indonesia from 2013. The ACD regime has therefore been described as “one of the first concrete instances of economic integration between ASEAN countries”.
Meanwhile, however, the EU itself replaced its Directive in 2009 with a Cosmetics Regulation, which on 11 July 2013 came into direct effect in the (now 27) EU member states, rather than having to be implemented by national legislation – sometimes not straightforwardly – as occurs when harmonisation is attempted by means of a Directive. The EU Regulation similarly attempts to enhance cross-border trade through harmonisation, expanding consumer choice while respecting public health, for example by adding new requirements to label cosmetics (such as suncreens) that include nano-particles.
Part 2 below therefore takes a closer link at key features of the ACD, including some differences that remain compared to the original EU model (and especially the US regulatory regime), as well as implementation and other challenges. As elaborated in Part 3, as well as various concrete improvements that could be made to this approach for harmonizing consumer product safety law, the model might eventually be extended to other sectors and anyway is relevant to general consumer regulators, even if the primary jurisdiction over cosmetics usually remains with health officials.

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