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    Consumer Protection in LAC III – Consumer Agencies in LAC

    By Keith R | April 18, 2007

    Topics: Consumer Protection | No Comments »

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    To make up for missing World Consumer Rights Day (March 15), I promised to give you a five-part overview of consumer protection in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). In Part I, I looked at how consumer agencies and consumer NGOs in the region celebrated the Day. In Part II-A I examined how intergovernmental bodies have influenced the development of consumer law in the region, and in Part II-B I provided an overview of consumer protection laws, regulations, policies, etc. that can be found in the region.

    Here I’ll give you a quick guide to LAC’s consumer agencies. In Part IV I’ll do the same for LAC’s consumer groups. And in Part V, I’ll give you a flavor of the current issues and actors by providing a potpourri of consumer protection news briefs from the region.

    Take notes, there’ll be a quiz later! Wink (just kidding)

    These various “guides” regarding consumer protection initiatives in LAC will shortly be added to the “Temas Tools” section (see the righthand menu) as standalone pages that I can update periodically, so if this subject interests you, keep your eyes peeled for that and bookmark the pages once they’re posted.

    Classifying the National Entities

    Putting aside for the moment the complex and unique Brazilian system (discussed below), are there distinctive ways LAC nations organize who is charge of setting consumer protection policy and defending consumer interests?

    I have yet to see anyone else suggest a typology for consumer entities (in LAC or elsewhere), so here’s my stab at it:

    The Brazilian Hybrid System

    Brazil has a whole jumble of entities involved in consumer protection that, while confusing to look at and puzzle out from the outside, seems to work for them. Technically consumer policy is the responsibility of a “system” — the National Consumer Defense System (Sistema Nacional de Defesa do Consumidor – SNDC) created by the Consumer Code. The SNDC networks federal, state and local consumer authorities, other interested federal bodies (such as the Health and Telecommunications Ministries, or regulatory agencies such as Anvisa or ANEEL), and consumer groups.

    Coordinating the SNDC and doing most of the actual policy writing — issuing implementing decrees and resolutions for consumer-related legislation passed by Congress — is the Consumer Defense and Protection Department (DPDC) of the Justice Ministry.

    However, much of the enforcement and consumer defense work actually is undertaken by the 27 state consumer defense entities known as “PROCONs” (Pro-Consumer) no matter what their formal title, organization or slot in the state government might be (some are foundations, some institutes, some are housed in a specific state secretariat, etc.). All the big and medium-sized municipalities and even some of the smaller ones also have “PROCONs.” [I will not list the links to all the PROCONs here, but will add them once this article is transformed into a standalone page under the “Temas Tools” in the righthand menu.

    But consumer defense and enforcement is not the exclusive province of DPDC and/or the PROCONs! For you see, Brazil has a special type of fourth branch of government called the “Public Ministry” (Ministério Público – MP) and each state’s MP has a permanent “chamber” or “center” of attorneys devoted to consumer protection. Their job is to bring suit in the public interest — sometimes even taking on government officials for not implementing or enforcing law or doing so improperly (in their estimation).

    The Paraguayan Experiment

    With seed money from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Paraguay has been constructing what it likes to call an Integrated National Consumer Protection System (SPC). While the secretariat and coordination functions of the SPC are performed by a special section of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MIC), the SPC itself involves MIC, other interested Ministries, consumer protection enforcers at the local level, civil society groups felt to be representative of consumer interests, and providers of goods and services. The idea is to get everyone involved in both educating the consumer and in improving the quality of good, services, advertising/promotion and other marketing practices.

    Links to the National Agencies
    (the ones that have websites, that is!)

    Argentina: Subsecretaría de Defensa del Consumidor, Ministerio de Economía y Producción (MECON) [Subsecretariat for Consumer Defense, Ministry of Economy and Production]

    Barbados: Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Commerce, Consumer Affairs & Business Development

    Brazil: Departamento de Proteção e Defesa do Consumidor, Ministério da Justiça [Department of Consumer Protection and Defense, Ministry of Justice].

    Chile: Servicio Nacional del Consumidor (SERNAC) [National Consumer Service]

    Costa Rica: Comisión Nacional del Consumidor (CNC) [National Consumer Commission]

    El Salvador: Defensoría del Consumidor [Defender of the Consumer]

    Guatemala: Dirección de Atención y Asistencia al Consumidor (DIACO), Ministerio de Economía [Directorate of Attention & Assistance to the Consumer, Economy Ministry]

    Jamaica: Consumer Affairs Commission

    Mexico: Procuraduría Federal del Consumidor (Profeco) [Federal Consumer Prosecutor]

    Nicaragua: Dirección – Defensa al Consumidor, Dirección General de Competencia y Transparencia en los Mercados, Ministerio de Fomento, Industria y Comercio [Consumer Defense Directorate, Directorate-General for Competition and Market Transparency, Commerce Section, Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade]

    Panama: Autoridad de Protección al Consumidor y Defensa de la Competencia [Authority for Consumer Protection and Defense of Competition]

    Paraguay: Sistema Nacional Integrado de Protección al Consumidor (SNIPC) [Integrated National System of Consumer Protection]

    Peru: Comisión de Protección al Consumidor, Instituto Nacional de la Competencia y de la Protección de Propiedad Intelectual (Indecopi) [Consumer Protection Commission, National Institute for the Defence of Competition and for the Protection of Intellectual Property]

    Trinidad and Tobago: Consumer Affairs Division, Ministry of Legal Affairs

    Uruguay: Área Defensa del Consumidor (ADECO), Dirección General de Comercio, Ministerio de Economia y Finanzas [Consumer Defense Area, Directorate-General for Commerce, Economy and Finance Ministry]

    Venezuela: Instituto para la Defensa y Educación del Consumidor y del Usuario (INDECU) [Institute for the Defense and Eduction of the Consumer and User]

    — Keith R

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