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European law - Fair and honest trading...

Giuseppe Abbamonte

Giuseppe Abbamonte

A number of interesting developments concerning the protection of consumer rights have taken place in recent months, with one of the most important being the recent implementation of the EU directive on Unfair Commercial Practices.

December 2007 saw the implementation of this directive into local legislation, which will have a direct impact on a number of different sectors including businesses, commercial institutions, lawyers and anyone involved in the sale and promotion of goods and services to consumers.

The new law should be of particular interest to both consumers and businesses. Consumers, traders and anyone dealing with the promotion and/or sale of goods or services, should make it a point to familiarise themselves with the main provisions of the directive. The main gist of the legislation is to clearly outline what constitutes an unfair commercial practice, which is defined as being any act, course of conduct, representation or commercial communication that is carried out by the trader.

An unfair commercial practice is a promotion or sales activity by a trader that is contrary to the honest market practice in his field of activity and that distorts the behaviour of the average consumer. In all EU member states, dealings between traders and consumers before, during and after a sale is concluded, must respect rules about what is fair and what is not. The directive prohibits certain practices, as outlined below:

· Misleading consumers by giving false information: Giving information that is false, likely to deceive the average consumer and that may cause the consumer to take a decision s/he would otherwise not have opted for.

· Misleading consumers by omitting information: Leaving out certain information may result in the consumer making a decision s/he may not otherwise have made and is therefore considered unfair. This practice is prohibited by EU law. Hiding information or giving illegible, ambiguous or untimely information is also considered misleading.

· Aggressive commercial practices: Activities that may hamper the consumer's freedom of choice, such as harassment, coercion and exploiting a position of power so as to apply pressure on the consumer.

Another extremely important part of the directive that traders must be aware of is what is commonly referred to as the Black List. As the name suggests, this is a list of practices that are banned, in all circumstances, across the EU. Practices such as misusing trust marks and codes, "bait" advertising, unjustified limited offers or advertising illegal products fall under the Black List and should be avoided at all costs.

Over the past six months the European Commission has launched an educational and information campaign in Malta targeting consumers and also businesses. As part of this campaign and due to the direct impact this new directive has on commercial institutions, the European Commission has decided to organise a half-day conference to deal specifically with the business and legislative aspects of the new directive.

This conference forms part and parcel of the ongoing consumer rights information campaign - launched in September 2007 - and has been designed to target the practical aspects of promoting and selling goods and services to consumers.

Giuseppe Abbamonte, an EU expert in unfair commercial practices and consumer protection legislation, will address the conference. He will be tackling the new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive as well as the reform of EU consumer protection legislation. His expertise will prove to invaluable to Maltese businesses, importers, distributors, retailers, senior marketing and management executives and lawyers expected to attend the conference.

Joanna Drake, head of the European Commission Representation in Malta, will be chairing the conference, while Mireille Vella (Consumer and Competition Division), Kevin Borg (Malta Chamber of Commerce) and Vince Farrugia (GRTU) will also be addressing the audience. Finance Minister Tonio Fenech will be delivering the closing speech.

As the new directive imposes obligations on Maltese businesses involved in the sale, promotion or marketing of good and services to consumers, participation in this conference is strongly recommended. Attendance is free of charge with registration starting at 8.30 a.m.

Early booking is recommended as places are limited. Reserve your place by calling Claire Azzopardi on 2132 0712 or by sending an e-mail to cazzopardi@ contenthouse.com.mt.
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