Consumer Agency moves a step nearer

Kyodo News

An expert council on policy finalized a plan Friday to create a new government entity to be called the Consumer Agency in fiscal 2009.

The council submitted a report detailing the framework of the planned agency to handle consumer affairs to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who unveiled the proposal for the agency in April.

The Consumer Agency will be granted strong authority on consumer policy, and 30 laws relating to four consumer areas — product labeling, commercial transactions, product safety, and prices and livelihood — will come under its auspices, according to the report.

Set up as an external organ of the Cabinet Office, the Consumer Agency will act as “the control tower” of the administration of consumer affairs, the report says, adding it is designed to shift consumer policy from a probusiness to a more consumer-oriented one.

Acting on the final report, the government will work out the new agency’s framework, detailing schedules for the transfer of jurisdiction of laws under the new body so the plan can be endorsed by the end of June.

The government plans to submit a bill to set up the new agency during an extraordinary Diet session that may convene in August so the agency can be inaugurated next spring.

Moves to integrate consumer-related activities, which are currently handled by different government ministries and agencies, come in the wake of a recent spate of food mislabeling incidents, faulty products and other problems, including the outbreak of food poisoning involving Chinese “gyoza” dumplings, over which the ministries and agencies were criticized for their slow initial response.

According to the report, the Consumer Agency will be inaugurated with an initial staff of about 200 under a minister.

The report says the agency will be empowered to design, execute and coordinate consumer policies and unify contract offices for consumers.

The agency will also be empowered to recommend remedial measures against problematic companies or individuals, the report says.

The government will consider legal action to help victims of fraud and other illicit commercial activities, including seizing profits earned via such activities and enabling the state to sue on behalf of the victims.

The agency will also handle the nation’s price policy, including revising utility rates, by having laws and regulations transferred to it from the Cabinet Office.

In view of the lukewarm government response to food-related problems in the past, new legislation will be established requiring municipal-run consumer centers to immediately report life-threatening cases to the Consumer Agency.

Experts will be named for a special committee to be set up at the agency, a move meant to have consumers’ views reflected in national policy.

The 11-member council was established in February at the initiative of Fukuda. It is headed by former University of Tokyo President Takeshi Sasaki.