As they look to strengthen their consumer protection policies, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries1 are confronting limitations born of their relative newness to the concept. Although the topic of consumer protection has been on the agenda for some time, the task is now magnified by the rise of e-commerce and the sharing economy, which must be addressed alongside the typical consumer protection risks that have long existed in commerce. For most of these countries, consumer protection will involve dealing with fraud, misinformation, and other threats from sources both old and new.
Progress will depend on the governments’ attention to a few key areas. GCC governments need to look at the institutions currently responsible for consumer protection, and think about how their roles need to evolve; have a clear understanding of when to use prevention measures versus enforcement measures; and make sure to involve better-informed consumers and the community in the effort to safeguard their own interests. Finally, GCC countries should take a long-term view of consumer protection, recognizing that the challenges of tomorrow will be different from today.
Consumer protection is an ongoing effort to keep abuses from happening, minimize their impact when they inevitably do happen, and keep a specific type of abuse that has already happened from recurring. The numerous ways in which consumers can be taken advantage of means that countries must be prepared to deal with problems in different areas and keep altering their consumer protection framework. Many countries have made big strides in their approach to consumer protection — such as defining the right set of enabling regulations, implementing an adequate operating model with agencies or departments in agencies that fulfill consumer protection functions, and continuously adapting the model to changing patterns while increasing awareness and engaging the community — and the GCC can achieve this too. Better safeguards for consumers will allow GCC countries to accelerate the modernization of their commerce infrastructures. That, in turn, will enable these economies, which have come so far, to keep moving forward.
1 The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.