China's long march towards market economy and consumer protection: an easy relationship?

The legal provisions aiming at consumer protection in China correlates to the country’s transition towards a socialist market economy – Professor Rossi argues. China has used legal reforms to progressively transform the economy to attract foreign investment and foster economic growth. After the PRC’s accession to the WTO in 2001, the consumer market entered a new phase, which required the government to review its laws and policies. In other words, it was necessary to protect, on the one hand, foreign consumers through the export of safe products and, on the other, Chinese consumers against business strategies and contractual relationships with foreign companies. At the same time, the PRC often discussed the public perception about the inadequacy of Chinese laws to protect even its own consumers. In the transition from a planned to a market economy, the progressively adopted rules and norms reflected the relationship between industrial production, fixed contracts, and consumer protection in very distinct ways. As a result, the PRC created a broad array of remedies, which encompass civil and criminal law, as well as civil, administrative, and criminal procedural law. The wider relationships between law and economy should be taken into consideration in dealing with these issues. Indeed - as it is often pointed out by Professor Rossi - the relationship between market and State is not only influenced by its economic development stage or its laws, but it also depends on the country’s leading socio-economic policy. Perhaps, one of the shortcomings of the study of legal reforms concerning the Chinese market is the tendency to attribute all the observed phenomena to one single explanatory scheme, according to which there exists a set of rules. For example, because consumer protection laws are widespread among advanced economies, emerging countries, like China, should simply adapt. It is argued that because globalization applies external pressure on national enterprises and the national authorities responsible for monitoring the market, the international market will eventually regulate the national state, rather than simple national regulation of the market. Therefore, international rules on consumer protection will ultimately and inevitably prevail since Chinese consumers will demand the same standards that the government itself will finally adopt, to compete with not only international products but the best legal systems as well. Since unfair commercial practices are constantly evolving, a growing number of scholars see cross-border cooperation to protect consumers as one of those issues that will promote regionalization in Asia within the context of globalization. Nonetheless, the growing interdependence of national economies makes the ineffectiveness, within a jurisdiction, of control methods and remedies extremely dangerous for consumers in other jurisdictions. Similarly, social concerns related to Non Trade Concerns might be treated differently within the WTO, compared to the EU or countries like China, considering the different underlying relationships between law and economy.