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Consumer rights at stake
Monday,  May 7, 2018,22:56 (GMT+7)

Consumer rights at stake

In a market economy, consumers’ voice and choice are decisive for any enterprise wanting to broaden its customer base, and crucial for determining its success or failure. Measuring customer satisfaction, therefore, is imperative for any wanting to survive the tough competition.

This principle, however, is far from reality in Vietnam’s fuel market, when traders often seek to force consumers to accept what they offer, not what consumers need. This point has become all crystal clear when key oil traders at a meeting with the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Hanoi last week suggested that the ministry hammer out policy to wipe off the fossil fuel RON95 from the market and focus on biofuels only.

Data from the above-mentioned meeting shows that of some 1.4 billion liters of petrol consumed on the domestic market in the first two months of the year, RON95 accounted for 58%, while the biofuel E5 RON92 the remaining 42%. Such proportions manifest the consumer’s preference for the higher-quality RON95, though the price difference between the two is VND1,800 per liter.

Still, a representative of Saigon Petro as a key oil trader proposed at the meeting that the ministry seek the Government’s approval to introduce a new biofuel, E5 RON95, to replace the fossil fuel RON95, like what authorities previously did when replacing the fossil fuel RON92 by E5 RON92. The goal is to finally get rid of all fossil fuels in the local market, and what is more worrisome is that many traders at the meeting supported the proposal.

Let us not scrutinize the motives behind the proposal, as this move alone shows blatant disregard for consumers’ rights and interests, narrowing their choices when such rights should be protected at all costs. The move is all the more mean-spirited when traders seek State intervention to maximize their profit.

Numerous consumers have frowned on the idea of eliminating RON95. A quick survey by the news site VnExpress shows that among some 20,000 respondents as of Saturday night, an overwhelming 89% rejected the proposal. The talking point is whether such consumers’ voices are heard.

Consumers’ legitimate rights and benefits, as a matter of course, must be safeguarded, and the profiteering mindset must be remedied if the market-based economy is to thrive for the good of all stakeholders. Relevant agencies, first and foremost State bodies and consumer associations, need to stand by consumers in this case, not only to ensure fairness but also to restore the integrity of the entire trade system.

The tentative move in the fuel market may serve as a good case study for all stakeholders to win back consumer confidence in a time of rapid international integration. Otherwise, when consumers turn their back to local traders and switch to foreign brands, it is not all their faults when the trust is lost. It is high time consumer rights could not be disrespected.

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