Though the Laws on Competition and Consumer Rights Protection took effect many years ago, a majority of Vietnamese businesses and consumers do not understand their legal rights, a seminar heard on April 10 in Ho Chi Minh City.

According to Tran Phuong Lan, head of the Vietnam Competition Administration Department's Competition Supervision and Management Division, the competition law was written to preserve the rights of enterprises to compete freely and lawfully with each other. It took effect about 10 years ago, but only about 25 percent of Vietnamese firms understand the law.

"About 78 percent of FDI firms know how to use the law to protect their rights," she said.

Under the law, unfair competitive practices include misleading instructions (misleading consumers in their understanding of the goods and services); infringement of business secrets; coercion in business; defamation of other enterprises; causing disruption to business activities of other enterprises; advertisements or promotions aimed at unfair competition; discrimination by association; and illegal multi-level selling.

Advertisements or promotions aimed at unfair competition and illegal multi-level selling were two common violations.

"When enterprises discover unfair competitive practices of their rivals, they need to submit their complaints to the VCAD for investigation," she said.

But she said sanctions applied to unfair competitive practices were not strong enough to prevent people from repeating the offence.

Phan The Thang, deputy head of the Division of Consumer Rights Protection under the department, said awareness of consumers about the law had increased, but they were still afraid to file complaints or lawsuits when their rights were violated.

The number of violations of consumer rights was increasing, especially the selling of poor quality products and fake goods, and dubious promotion programmes. Exaggerated advertising and trade fraud were also more common.

He suggested that consumers carefully check information about products they want to buy, keep all bills, warranties and other relevant documents and inform authorised agencies when their rights are violated.

Businesses needed to focus more on improving their customer services and product quality and design, he said.

Nguyen Phuong Nam, deputy head of the department, said free trade agreements would open opportunities for local firms to boost exports, but present challenges as well. Importing countries would increase trade remedies and barriers, including anti-dumping, anti-subsidies and safeguards to protect their local production.

If a company faces an anti-dumping investigation, or anti-subsidies and safeguards, it must closely co-operate with relevant agencies of that country to solve the problem. Otherwise, it would have to pay very high duties when exporting its products to that market.

The seminar was organised by the department, the Vietnam Association of Women Entrepreneurs, the Vietnam Association of Consumer Goods Development, and the Business Association of High-Quality Vietnamese Goods.-VNA