Testimony of FTC Commissioner Mozelle W. Thompson
In Support of FTC Reauthorization
July 17, 2002
Good morning, Chairman Dorgan and members of the Committee, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before you and to offer testimony in support of the FTC's reauthorization. Today, I would like to talk to you about a vital and increasingly important area of the agency's work: international consumer protection.
It is a unique time in our history, in which improvements in communications and technology have created a global marketplace where American consumers and businesses play an active role. It is also a special time in our economic history as people in the United States and throughout the world recognize consumer confidence is a necessary element for the global marketplace to thrive. Finally, it is an important time because people around the world are looking to America for leadership on these important issues.
The FTC has a long history of protecting consumers in the American marketplace - which is the most vibrant, transparent, and diverse in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising that the FTC would now be called upon to play an important role internationally, in the area of consumer protection enforcement and policy development. This leadership role is evidenced by our work with international organizations, including:
In addition, we work with important regional organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) and its Electronic Commerce Steering Group, and
the Free Trade Association of the Americas (FTAA) (Joint Public/Private Sector of Experts on E-Commerce). And we work with stakeholder organizations like the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) and the Global Business Dialogue for Electronic Commerce (GBDe). These two organizations, in particular, provide us with an opportunity to hear from businesses, consumers, and governments about international consumer issues. Of course, all these efforts benefit from the support of Chairman Muris and his recognition that the FTC's role in international consumer protection is of great benefit to both American consumers and businesses.
I would also like to highlight some of the specific areas we are working on in international consumer protection, since they help to illustrate our commitment - and the commitment of our international colleagues - to the important issue of consumer confidence.
At both the OECD-Committee on Consumer Policy and the IMSN, we are working with our international counterparts to develop a common understanding of what constitutes core consumer protections. We are beginning with work on a statement about cross-border fraud. By working on such issues, we hope to develop more effective means of going after those who commit harm across national boundaries.
I may note that our efforts in this regard are greatly assisted by information we receive from "e-consumer.gov", a new Web site that was launched by the FTC in April 2001 with thirteen other countries and the OECD. "e-consumer.gov" provides information to consumers around the world, and provides a forum for them to file complaints about cross-border e-commerce practices.
We are also continuing to develop bilateral relationships that enable us to share information and take coordinated enforcement action to protect consumers. Among the countries with whom we have entered into agreements are: Canada, Australia, and The United Kingdom. These relationships have resulted in an increase this year, in cross-border prosecutions of cases developed between the FTC's regional offices and our Canadian colleagues. But these international efforts are not limited to simply consumer protection law enforcement. We have also worked with our international colleagues in consumer protection policy and education.
Beginning with our work on the OECD's groundbreaking Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Electronic Marketplace, which was released in 2000 and, at latest count, has been translated into seventeen languages, the Committee on Consumer Policy has examined international Online alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms, that might provide cross-border consumers with inexpensive alternative remedies to courts. They have also worked to survey various countries protections for credit and debit card holders because of the frequency with which such cards are used in cross border transactions.
To conclude, I expect the Commission will continue its work in these areas and will seek to actively participate in the international fora that reach out to other countries, such as those in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. These international relationships will continue to be important because mutual understanding about consumer protection is a key element in ensuring that there will be consumer confidence in an American, as well as a world, marketplace.
I continue to have confidence that our economic system produces the strongest, most transparent, and safest markets in the world. However, our economic well-being in part comes from the active involvement of agencies like ours; taking appropriate law enforcement actions and also by providing leadership in a global setting about appropriate, as well as inappropriate, business conduct. Through these efforts, I believe that the FTC has a very important place in making markets accountable to consumers in both our antitrust and consumer protection missions, and I believe we are demonstrating why the FTC is among the most effective in the world in doing so.