Safeguarding consumers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 1996, 12:00am

Hong Kong's success rests upon its status as a free-trade port. If goods can be bought more cheaply overseas there are no barriers to their import, providing they are not pirated. That ensures the free market system works to enhance competition and keep prices down.

So the Government's decision to withdraw controversial legislative amendments, that might have threatened this fundamental principle, is welcome. Video store owners claimed these now-shelved provisions in the Intellectual Property (World Trade Organisation Amendments) Bill would have outlawed the present practice of 'parallel imports'.

This involves by-passing local licensees by directly importing copyrighted videos from other countries, where they are sold more cheaply. Any ban would lead to higher rental fees and a smaller selection of titles. The Retail Management Association warned that the amendments were so badly drafted they might also prohibit 'parallel imports' of other products. The Government maintained these proposals would clarify the law, rather than impose any new restrictions. But its decision to withdraw them amounts to tacit recognition the critics may have been correct.

No one disputes the need for tough measures to protect copyright owners. Yet this must not be used as an excuse for giving greedy local licensees the right to block cut-price imports. If any product, be it soft drinks or videos, can be produced, under copyright, more cheaply overseas then that is cause for Hong Kong to re-examine its efficiency rather than impose backdoor trade barriers.

The Government insists these amendments have only been postponed, and may be reintroduced as part of a more comprehensive copyright bill during the next legislative session. Hopefully this delay will allow for them to be re-drafted, so critics and consumers need no longer have anything to fear from them.