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Now They’re Coming After Your Delivery Apps

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the world of commerce has shifted primarily online. That’s made online retail, digital services, and delivery apps a godsend for millions of us sequestered in our homes.

This entirely new sector of the economy has allowed us to safely buy, enjoy, and use goods and services without the risk of coronavirus. Now it’s possible to enjoy the best drinks and food in just a few minutes, delivered by courier straight to your door.

Finally, a silver lining!

Alas, no: a group of organizations is looking to upend and halt those deliveries of restaurant meals to your home.

A new coalition calling itself Protect Our Restaurants is calling on state and local government to cap the commissions allowed on delivery service apps, and for the FTC to take action against delivery companies like Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates, and Doordash.

That would severely affect your ability to hit up a delivery app for a hot meal at your convenience. What gives?

The coalition is made up of organizations such as The American Sustainable Business Association, The American Economic Liberties Project, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, with the stated goal of “persuading policymakers to regulate food delivery apps so they can’t use their market power to exploit restaurants and take money out of our local economies.”

They claim delivery companies, the same ones that have empowered consumers, given vast new capabilities to restaurants, and provided good income to couriers, are “exploiting” each of these groups in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

The same claims were made in a class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year by consumers in New York who claimed these companies “prevent competition, limit consumer choice and force restaurants to agree to illegal contracts”. We’re no strangers to lawsuit abuse.

There are more than a few reasons to believe they’re wrong.

COMMISSION

Earlier this year, pre-pandemic, the NPD group estimated delivery orders in the United States to represent just 3% of all restaurant orders, and it’s risen as high as 7% in July 2020. Likely more now.

That means more and more customers are using food delivery apps to get the food they once ordered in restaurants, but to their homes.

Even before then, a prime complaint area of the coalition mentioned above and similar parties is the commission charged by these various food delivery apps as a fee for delivery and all other services they provide.

For orders placed through a delivery app to a restaurant, the app charges either a flat or percentage-based fee as a commission, which funds the logistics, the courier’s pay, and marketing costs associated with being in the app. This amount varies between 13.5% and 40%, depending on which options a restaurant agrees to when they sign up.

It’s that variance in commission rates that so enrages activists in this space. In one highly-circulated Facebook post, one restaurant owner claimed Grubhub collected more than 60% in commission (another look reveals the owner also paid for promotions and discounts on the app, and also had several cancellations and adjustments that would account for the larger share in commissions charged by Grubhub). Add to that plenty more anecdotes of high fees circulating social media.

In response, the cities of Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco have already capped commission rates at 15%, and a bevy of other city councils are lining up to join them. Many activists are now calling on more cities to do the same, and even lower the cap down to 5%.

While these caps on commission are well intended, they are actually counter-productive.

It will mean fewer order volumes that can be processed, less money will be available to couriers who sign up to deliver for the app, and higher prices to compensate for lost income. That would hurt restaurants, couriers, and consumers themselves who depend on these services.

And considering these apps offer quality marketing services as well as delivery for the restaurants on these services, there will likely be fewer resources available there as well. If you don’t have the capital to brand a Grubhub or Uber Eats, how can you expect to draw in customers?

Overall, a sweeping restriction on commission rates would degrade the quality and quantity of the delivery services, and end up hurting more people than it purports to help. That would be both anti-consumer and anti-innovation in the same fell swoop.

ANTITRUST

Much like the Congressional hearings against Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google some weeks ago, this coalition wants to use the weapons of the federal government through the Federal Trade Commission to break up the “monopoly power” of delivery services, mainly Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates, and Doordash.

With the exception of Grubhub, each of these companies (or subsidiaries in the case of Uber) has existed for less than 10 years. They’ve pivoted multiple times, expanded their services, and finally found a good niche empowering restaurants to quickly and reliably get their food to delivery customers.

At the same time, thousands of delivery workers have been able to get quick and easy work through the apps, giving needed income to students, those between jobs, and people who want extra income. These couriers often contract with multiple services, depending on whichever company offers the highest commission per delivery, similar to rideshare drivers.

Because every restaurant is free to contract its own delivery service or operate their own as was the case for many years, it’s hard to argue that a monopoly exists –– especially if there are more than four dominant players who provide delivery. That’s far from requiring antitrust intervention.

The benefits to restaurants seem clear: less money is spent on hiring a dedicated delivery driver or vehicle, commissions charged are consistent and transparent (whatever their amount), and partnering with a well-known app helps attracts more users who otherwise would never order from that specific restaurant.

Add to that, most of these restaurants likely never had delivery before they signed up for these apps, meaning they went from $0 profit to much more in just a few clicks.

If those costs weren’t worth it to restaurants, they’d start their own delivery services independent of these companies. That was the status quo before any of these companies arrived on the scene, we should remember.

Beyond that, if any of these companies have engaged in any illegal activity, such as promoting fraudulent websites or phone numbers, as the coalition alleges, then this should, of course, be investigated. But that falls outside of the domain of using antitrust laws to break up delivery companies that are providing valuable services to both consumers and restaurants.

If parties are aiming to regulate food delivery companies and are successful in doing so, they’ll set up a paradox of their own making: the only companies that will be able to comply with the regulations and caps will be the delivery firms with the most capital and resources. This would lock out any potential new competition and do more to restrict consumer choice than enhance it.

The last few months have provided each and every worker and consumer with plenty of uncertainty. Being able to order products right to our door, though, has been a blessing. Intervening in the market to undermine the choice of consumers and business contracts with restaurants would make that process arguably worse, and not better.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

In Kamala Harris, do consumers have an ally or a foe?

This week, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden revealed Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate for the November general election against President Donald Trump.

Because Harris’ influence on the Biden campaign will loom large, and be important to whomever American voters choose in the fall, it’s worth looking at some of her ideas and policies and how they would have an impact on consumers.

Let’s take a dip, shall we?

HEALTHCARE

On her original presidential campaign website and throughout the Democratic primary debates, Harris was adamant about banning private healthcare insurance in favor of a Medicare For All plan. She later backed out once she was questioned by party activists.

With that in mind, considering Biden was nominated to be his party’s candidate on a platform of not seeking Medicare For All, a plan to expand the government health insurance program to seniors to the entire population, it seems there may be healthy disagreement on this point.

As I’ve written in a few outlets, the idea of a Medicare For All health insurance system would rob consumers of competition and choice, and likely lead to less quality of healthcare than we actually receive. It would mean that healthcare decisions would be placed in a complex hierarchy of bureaucratic agencies immune from market forces. That would inevitably lead to higher costs overall – no matter who foots the bill.

Harris being on the ticket doesn’t mean M4All is now on the docket for the Democratic Party, but it does mean that ideas about the government reorganizing health insurance will certainly be a part of a potential Biden Administration in the future. That’ll be something to keep an eye on.

TECH

As we covered during the debates in 2019, Sen. Harris petitioned Twitter to remove President Donald Trump from its service. Those calls weren’t central to her rhetoric on tech regulations, but they at least revealed her mindset regarding content on social media platforms, and who should be allowed to have an account. In some speeches, she’s come out as more hawkish on online censorship, which should good everyone worry.

Unlike some of her past primary opponents, she was rather soft on the question of antitrust and whether the tech giants in Silicon Valley should be broken up, which is a relief for consumers.

Most of the animus against tech companies has very little to do with concern for consumers, and much more to do with the new generation of gatekeepers using technology and innovation to provide better services. Most consumers prefer these new innovations and want them to thrive, not be broken up.

For some observers, her political career in California and proximity to tech firms mean she’ll be an asset rather than a liability on future tech regulation. The outlet Marketwatch dubbed her a “friend, not a foe, of Big Tech” and the Wall Street Journal similarly gave her praise, though with some caution.

VAPING

What isn’t a surprise to listeners of Consumer Choice Radio is that Sen. Harris is no friend of vaping and harm-reducing innovations.

She penned a letter last year accusing the FDA of being soft on vaping and for not banning all vaping products outright. That would have been disastrous for the former smokers who rely on these products.

She took it a step further by linking legal nicotine vaping products to the bootleg THC vaping devices that caused lung injuries throughout 2019, which we’ve debunked in our own work at the Consumer Choice Center.

If Harris’ worldview remains the same, vapers won’t have a friend in the potential future VP.

CANNABIS

And lastly, we come to cannabis, a favorite topic of those who dub Harris “The Cop Who Wants to be (Vice) President,” like Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason.

During Harris’ time as a prosecutor in California, her reputation as an anti-cannabis voice was well-known.

But as our friends at Marijuana Moment mention, she’s changed her mind over the years, from being a staunch opponent to advocate:

Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.

Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana

Since dropping her campaign to be president, she’s become more vocal, making the argument for legalizing cannabis at the federal level, though she’s

Overall, there’s a lot to digest on a potential Kamala Harris Vice Presidency. On behalf of consumers, let’s hope there’s more good than bad.

Think of the children! How to find cures for rare and children diseases.

The European Commission just published a working document assessing the EU’s orphan and pediatric drug strategies. Read here why incentives for research are key to extending patients’ lives:

A rare disease is a medical condition that meets the criteria defined in Article 3 of Regulation (EC) No 141/2000; a life-threatening or chronically debilitating condition affecting no more than 5 in 10,000 persons in the EU. Although so-called rare diseases affect a limited number of people per disease, collectively they affect one person in every 17 people within Europe. There are over 7,000 different rare diseases patients suffer from.

Regulators see an ‘imbalance of risk and reward’ for the industry to find cures and treatments for those diseases. Hence US, Japanese and EU regulators increased options for longer market exclusivity for drugs tackling diseases in children and rare diseases. In 2000, Regulation (EC) No 141/2000 and  2006 Regulation (EC) No 1901/2006 were adopted by the European Commission. The ‘standard’ incentives provided by the general legislative framework for pharmaceuticals in the EU are 10 years of market protection and 20 years of patent protection. For pediatric and orphan drugs manufacturers can apply for extended market exclusivity.

The purpose of this strategy is to improve and expedite patients’ access to safe and affordable medicines and to support innovation in the EU pharmaceutical industry. Adding prolonged exclusivity worked: A massive increase in orphan drugs could be seen in the last 20 years! Between 2012 and 2017 over three times as many orphan drugs entered the EU compared to 2000-2005. The EU Commission estimated that between 200,000 and 440,000 additional quality-adjusted life years were gained thanks to more incentives for these drugs.

Added IP Protection for Orphan Drugs correlates with more drugs entering the market

Voices who call now for less protection of orphan and pediatric drugs want to undo the successes of the last two decades. The 142 orphan medicines authorized between 2000 and 2017 have helped up to 6.3 million patients in the EU to either cure or cope with their health conditions.

But there are still millions of patients waiting for a breakthrough that can help to treat their rare or pediatric disease – For this, we need to have incentives and not populism. Intellectual property is key in allowing the inventor and her investors to reward them for their massive risk they undertook in trying to find a cure or treatment for a rare disease. The EU’s approach to orphan and pediatric drugs by increasing incentives for inventors and manufacturers has worked. The successes of the past 20 years should not be undermined by populist calls to nationalize research and IP. If we care about patients with rare diseases, we should not question the importance of protecting intellectual property but see it as a precondition for future innovations.

To sum it up: Think of the children and allow medical innovation to take place!

Antitrust tech hearings dig for consumer harm but come up short

Armed with face masks and fresh customer complaints, members of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law convened both virtually and in-person on Thursday, for the first of many hearings on competition in the tech sector.

It was a six-hour marathon of gobbledygook legal turns of phrase and static-prone troubleshooting for lawmakers.

The witnesses were CEOs from some of the four largest companies in America: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple, and Sundar Pichai of Google.

Together, these companies serve billions of global consumers for a variety of needs, and have become very rich by doing so. They employ millions of people, make up big portions of the American economy, and have been the trailblazers for innovation in virtually every free nation.

It is also true that they’ve made many mistakes, errors in judgment, and have made it easy to be bashed by all sides.

Despite that, these companies are true American success stories. And that’s not even considering the industrious biographies of their CEOs on the witness stand: an immigrant from India; the son of a teenage mother and immigrant stepfather; a college dropout; and a gay southern man shunned by the Ivy League. Each of them is a self-made millionaire or billionaire in their own right.

But in the context of this hearing, they were America’s villains.

The potshots in the hearing came from both Democrat and Republican congressmen, each using their bully pulpits to reel out various accusations and grievances on the representatives from Big Tech. But lost in all of this was the consumer.

The scene was analogous to George Orwell’s Two Minute Hate on repeat, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein replaced by a WebEx video call on full screen with smiling CEOs surrounded by the furniture in their home offices.

For Democrats, these companies have grown far too large using unscrupulous business practices, beating competitors with lower prices, better service, speed, and slick branding – allowing them to purchase or bully their competition.

For Republicans, it’s all about the bias against conservatives online, facilitated by the thorny content moderation that selectively edits which social media posts are allowed to stand.

What’s missing from this story so far? American consumers.

The justification of the hearing was to determine whether these companies have abused the trust of the public and whether consumers have been harmed as a result of their actions.

But more often than not, questions from committee members hinged on the and “business acumen” of decisions taken within the company, classifying rudimentary strategy decisions as illegal and hostile moves.

Platforms Opening to Third-Party Sellers

An example is Rep. Pramila Jayapal, of Washington State. She represents the district where Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos. She condemned Amazon for collecting data on third-party sellers who are able to use Amazon’s website to sell products.

“You have access to data that your competitors do not have. So you might allow third-party sellers onto your platform, but if you’re continuously monitoring the data to make sure that they’re never going to get big enough to compete with you, that is the concern that the committee actually has,” said Jayapal.

Here, we’re talking about Amazon’s online platform, which sells millions of goods. Two decades ago, Amazon opened up its platform to merchants for a small fee. It was a win for sellers, who could now have easier access to customers, and it was a win for customers who now can buy more products on Amazon, regardless of who the seller was.

When Amazon sees that certain product categories are very popular, they will sometimes make their own, knowing they have the infrastructure to deliver products at high satisfaction. This brand is called Amazon Basics, encompassing everything from audio cables to coolers and batteries.

Rep. Jayapal says that by collecting data on those merchants in their store, Amazon is effectively stealing information…that sellers voluntarily give in exchange for using Amazon’s storefront.

However, the end result of the competition between Amazon’s third-party sellers and Amazon’s own products (on Amazon’s platform) is something that is better for the consumer: there is more competition, more choice, and more high-quality options to choose from. This elevates the experience for a consumer and helps save them money. This is far from harm.

The same can be said of Apple and its App Store, which came under fire from the chairman of the committee, Rep. David Cicilline. He said Apple was charging developers who use the App Store “exorbitant rents” that veered toward “highway robbery”.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was quick to retort by pointing out that the App Store is a platform for its own apps, but it also allows third-party developers to use that store for a fee. This is an entirely new market space that never existed before Apple opened it, and thus is a net gain for any developer who uses the store, and benefits consumers who click and download even more.

Business As Usual

Throughout the hearing, public officials pointed to internal documents as proof of the malfeasance of the tech firms. The documents were unearthed by the committee and contained emails and memos on mergers, acquisitions, and business practices from all four tech firms.

The Financial Times classified these documents as evidence that the companies “chased dominance and sought to protect it.”

Rep. Jared Nadler of New York chased down Mark Zuckerberg for his decision to purchase the photo-app Instagram back in 2012, calling the move “outright illegal” because he believed Facebook bought it to “essentially put them out of business.”

Today, Instagram is an incredibly popular app that has grown to half a billion users, thanks to Facebook’s investments, talent, and integration. It’s made consumers very happy, and has become an attractive product for advertisers as well. Again, no harm for the consumer.

Pro-Consumer, not Pro or Anti-business

One of the most astute lines from the hearing came from the sole representative from North Dakota.

“Usually in our quest to regulate big companies, we end up hurting small companies more,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong. Indeed.

And add to that the eventual scenario whereby only the highly connected and vastly wealthy tech companies will be able to comply with stringent regulation from Washington. That’s not what consumers want, and it’s not what Americans want either.

If Congress aims to use antitrust power to break up or heavily regulate the enterprises built by Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Apple, it won’t be done lightly. It would likely leave a lot of damage in its wake for small and medium-sized businesses, many of whom rely on these major firms to conduct their business. In turn, consumers rely on those companies for products and services.

Each of these companies represent a case study in innovation, entrepreneurship, and giving the people what they want to create a huge network of consumers. There’s a lot to learn there.

Instead of using the law to break up companies, what if we learned from their success to empower more consumers?

Sharing economy in the post-COVID world: what’s new?

In May, the Consumer Choice Center published the first-of-its-kind Sharing Economy Index, ranking the best and worst cities in the world for regulations on sharing economy services. The top 10 cities according to the index are Tallinn, Vilnius, Riga, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Kyiv, São Paulo, Tbilisi, and Helsinki. On the other hand, the cities of Prague, Dublin, Amsterdam, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Sofia, Tokyo, The Hague, Luxembourg City, and Athens found themselves at the very bottom of the list.

For better or worse, the world isn’t static: there have been some new developments in the field of sharing economy in the last few months. Many governments have used the pandemic as a precondition to hinder innovation, and yet platform businesses persisted and tapped the demand that challenges brought about by lockdowns and responded with creativity.

Let me start with some good news.

The UK legalises e-scooters

Electric scooters will become legal on roads in England, Scotland and Wales beginning in July if obtained through a share scheme endorsed by around 50 municipal councils. The scooters will be limited to travelling at 15.5mph (25kmph) and forbidden from use on pavement and sidewalks.

UberEats has been killing it during the pandemic

In the first quarter of 2020, Uber Eats revenues went up by more than 50 per cent globally. Uber Freight – an app that helps carriers make hassle-free bookings and allows shippers to tender shipments easily – grew revenues by 57 per cent. In July, Uber also launched a grocery delivery service, partnering with grocery delivery startup Cornershop.

Bolt is now available in Thailand

Today, Bolt, a competitor of Uber, announced that it has rolled out its services in Thailand. That’s a huge win for Thai consumers and riders.

Bolt said its pilot venture in the Thai capital has more than 2,000 drivers already on board and will offer better rates to drivers and riders.

“For a minimum of six months, Bolt in Thailand commits to charging drivers no commission for using the platform and offers fares 20% lower than other competitors,” the Estonian company said.

… And now some bad news. 

Amsterdam regulates Airbnb further

In June, Amsterdam banned short-term accommodation rentals including Airbnb from operating in the three districts of its historical centre.

In other areas of Amsterdam, Airbnb will face new regulations too: hosts must acquire special permits, and renting out their apartments will only be allowed to lease to short-term tenants for 30 days out of the year to groups of a maximum of four people.

Amsterdam was one of the least sharing economy friendly cities, according to our Index, and this new policy only pushes it further down the list.

Lisbon wants to get rid of Airbnb

In June, Lisbon mayor has pledged to “get rid of Airbnb” once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

As part of the affordable housing plan, landlords afraid of their apartments lying empty can apply to rent them to the municipality, for a minimum term of five years. The city, in turn, will be responsible for finding tenants, through the programme targeted at young people and lower-income families.

Uber to face more legal battles in London

A dispute over whether its drivers should continue to be classified as self-employed has begun in the U.K.’s Supreme Court. In a second legal clash scheduled for September, Uber will appeal the loss of its operating license in the UK’s capital.

Despite grim predictions at the beginning of the pandemic, the sharing economy has survived though not without any losses. As with every service that has made our lives easier, platform businesses are extensively enjoyed by millions of consumers globally. Now that we know how great it feels to be able to ride an e-scooters, to rideshare, or to share a flat with locals, governments will have a hard time trying to rid us of those choices. The sharing economy is driven by creativity and entrepreneurship: what doesn’t kill it, makes it stronger.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

NIPOST, GOVERNMENTS MUST STOP USING PRIVATE ORGANIZATIONS AS SCAPEGOATS FOR THEIR FAILURES.

Few days ago, The Nigeria Postal Service (NIPOST) introduced a new set of charges that required operating courier services across the country to pay the agency for licences to operate. Beyond this, each courier service has to submit documents that could influence NIPOST’s decision to grant a licence or not. The new charges which rivalled the setup costs of new courier services ranged from 20 million naira to 250,000 naira per year depending on the cadre these companies do business. While public outrage caused the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami to demand NIPOST to suspend the new tariff on registration of courier services, it does not change the dubious situation where a player in the logistics industry is also acting as the regulator of that industry and attempting to use its taxation powers to suffocate the others players in the market. 

In the past few months, especially after the government placed a nationwide lockdown effectively forcing many businesses to operate from home, online retailing provided the leeway for several companies to stay alive. Due to the positive flux of online services, a supporting logistics sector rose in its number of players. This made sense to enable goods to be delivered to people who are unable to leave their homes. Asides this, as the Lagos State government placed a ban on motorcycles, several transportation workers turned their assets to the logistics sector. This simply required them to invest in a bag or delivery box fitted to their motorcycles. With little branding, several small couriers emerged and managed to stay afloat while the economy took a downturn. A boost in online retail  also meant that effects on the dwindling naira could be further mitigated while customers were able to access important goods whether far or near.

In the same period, NIPOST was receiving scrutiny for its years of failure. Among others, the organization had lost its stamp duty revenue to a fellow government agency, the Federal Inland Revenue Service while the government sought to carve out three subsidiary companies out of it. The Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Alex Okoh had identified these companies to be NIPOST Properties and Development Company; NIPOST Transport and Logistics Company; and NIPOST Microfinance bank Limited. In a scramble to retain its relevance, the agency, which oversees the Courier Regulatory Department (CRD) that registers and regulates the logistics market and also EMS/Parcel Nigeria which runs a delivery service, introduced a new set of bogus charges as it tried to stamp its feet as a regular of the industry – especially in a way that ensured it made ridiculous amounts of money at the expense of business owners in a name of licensing fees. At the same time, the agency invested more in delivery vehicles to raise its play in the logistics market. They then try to cover their dubious actions by their sudden urge to help people protect their items from bad logistics companies. 

It is difficult to forgive such lack of insight and empathy – when licensing fees rival startup capital, not even taking into account all the other legal and duplicated levies banded on these logistics companies. The agency definitely does not need that amount of money in registration to be able to determine the legitimacy of players in the market. All the information can be supplied to the agency for free. Draconian measures like this ensure customers who were able to access products and services beyond their vicinity might now have to pay through their noses for such access or limit their choices to their surroundings. This development effectively limits the choices of consumers by reducing the players in the logistic sector and increasing the delivery cost of goods.

It is an absurd arrangement for NIPOST which runs a commercial delivery service to regulate other delivery service providers. In a country where the government is notorious for decimating the progress of local business initiatives, reigning an agency with such power renders the space unhealthy for local players. NIPOST becomes a yardstick in an industry it has repeatedly failed at making progress. This anomaly needs to be addressed and very quickly too.

In the past, another public entity had given way for new entrants in the telecommunication industry. Before then, NITEL operated as a monopoly until 1992 when a regulatory body Nigerian Communications Commission was created and new entrants were allowed. This decision was eventually vindicated when NITEL continued on the path of underperformance and never actually met the standards that private organizations set subsequently. Several attempts were made to save NITEL from going down, but its assets were handed over to NATCOM (Ntel’s parent company) in a deal worth $252 million in 2015. The success of the telecommunication industry has been attributed to allowing private organizations to provide key services to the public while allowing the market to sift for excellence. 

NIPOST playing both player and referee is a recipe for disaster. Logistics is a foundation of trade and disruptions in logistics easily raise costs of trade and prices in the market – thus leading to loss of jobs and higher costs of living. 

The WTO is Missing In Action on COVID

According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s latest report to the United Nationès High-level Political Forum (HLPF), global trade will fall by between 13% and 32% in 2020 as a consequence of the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that the decline will exceed the collapse brought on by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, and nearly all regions will suffer double-digit declines in trade volumes in 2020.

The prediction is grim but not surprising. The world was simply not prepared for the pandemic, and, while a lot can be said about whether opting for lockdowns was a reasonable decision or not, what matters more now is the logic behind rushed economic policies. International trade implies interdependence and trust, and, therefore, unilateral withdrawal from a trading relationship is damaging and costly.

More specifically, this has to do with export restrictions on medical supplies and food. In the midst of the pandemic, 72 WTO members and eight non-WTO member countries banned or limited the export of face masks, protective gear, gloves and other goods. In a similar fashion, 15 countries globally made it harder or impossible to export food.

In the said report, the WTO draws attention to the chaotic nature of those trade regulations and lack of international cooperation and coordination. Most countries didn’t notify the WTO of their intentions to restrict trade, and this tells us two things. First, the WTO needs urgent reform to justify its institutional necessity. Second, regardless of how integrated and globalised the world might seem, true power remains with nation-states.

The good news is that the WTO is due to elect its new director-general, and some candidates seem to have a good grasp of what needs to be done to reshape the organisation. One of the frontrunners Amina Mohamed, a 58-year-old minister and former WTO chair, argues that “the [WTO] rulebook needs to be upgraded because of the concerns that are being expressed about the rules not being fit for purpose.”

The persistence of nation-statism is undeniable, and the pandemic has reinforced some of its key traits such as self-sufficiency. Being able to stand on two feet instead of waiting for others to give you a hand and, generally, being concerned only with oneself has become a protectionist mantra during the pandemic. Changing the prevalent narrative in favour of more cooperation and independence is one of the biggest challenges the new WTO DG will face.

However, it’s not all gloom and doom. The COVID-19 situation has revealed that a number of essential goods, such as ventilators or medical-style face masks had previously been burdened with tariffs. Removing many of these trade barriers has been helpful during the crisis, yet these measures are equally unnecessary outside the realms of the Novel Coronavirus. This is a positive shift and the one that needs to be endorsed by the WTO and all its members individually.

The WTO’s impact has been consistently declining over time, and the pandemic exposed its weakest sides: lack of coordination. The coronavirus crisis is not the first and definitely not the last challenge we face, but whatever happens, we should preserve free trade at all costs. The WTO is a much needed organisation, but it has to change.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Is meat unhealthy and killing the climate? No, it isn’t

I had the great fortune to stumble upon an excellent article in the German medical media outlet “Ärzteblatt”. In this piece titled “Nutrition and climate: Eating meat-free, healthy and climate-friendly – the evidence is missing“, Dr. med. Johannes Scholl, President of the German Academy for Preventive Medicine lays out the varying myths surrounding meat consumption. It is increasingly known that the enemies of meat are going to great length to demonise its prevalence, by making statements about its health effects and impact on the environment. I’ve had my own experience arguing against these tendencies on a TV panel on TRT World:

Back to the article in question. Scholl presents a number of highly interesting points, and I’d like to give you the most informative nuggets.

“Reports of disadvantages of meat consumption are increasing and are adding up to a seemingly consistent bouquet of arguments for a meat-free diet. Recently, for example, a new study has been published which proclaims an association between increased meat consumption and cardiovascular mortality and all-cause mortality. In 6 cohorts (29,682 patients), a risk increase was found for both endpoints in 19 years of observation per consumption of 2 portions of unprocessed red meat per week – but only by 3%.

This is a “pseudo result” and can easily be invalidated. Both inaccuracies in data collection and possible systematic errors in observational studies mean that a relative risk of 1.03 (95% confidence interval: 1.01-1.06) simply says nothing. A glance at the details also renders this study unreliable: allegedly, the average alcohol consumption in the study was 1 g per day. This underestimates the real drinking amounts by at least ten times, as has been sufficiently proven by other studies.”

Scholl shows how any blatant claims on nutritional science must be taken with a grain of salt. After decades of nutritional science, we know how difficult it is to account for the multifactorial aspects of human health. He raises a similar point later on:

“For example, studies on meat consumption show that the groups with low meat consumption were on average more educated, slimmer, more athletically active, less likely to smoke, and generally healthier than the groups of meat-eaters. Such systematic differences are attempted to be statistically extrapolated – multivariate adjusted, that is. However, this is often not transparent, because the extent of the adjustment for individual, unevenly distributed risk factors is not disclosed. A distortion of the results is therefore unavoidable even in meta-analyses. A further problem is the so-called “recall bias”. It refers to the uncertainty regarding the correct recall of nutritional behaviour. The authors around Guyatt, therefore, stress that meta-analyses could also provide insufficient evidence for an influence of meat on disease risks. The overall evidential value is too weak to derive serious recommendations for the population.”

Scholl also brings us concerning news about the state of academic debate within nutritional science, notably how some in the camp of activist science are trying to prevent evidence-based information to come out.

“Scientific discussion is called for instead of polemics and defamation, demands Sharp from Harvard. He emphasized that there was no evidence that the meat industry had sponsored the studies. It is true: Texas A&M University, as an institution for its agricultural sector, also receives donations from the meat industry amounting to approximately 1.5% of its total budget.

The stumbling block to the fierce dispute was a series of articles published in 2019 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In it, the authors concluded, on the basis of strictly evidence-based criteria, that there was no qualitatively sufficient scientific evidence to justify a recommendation to reduce meat consumption. One of the main authors of the publication is Dr Gordon H. Guyatt from the Canadian McMaster University in Hamilton/Ontario, one of the fathers of evidence-based medicine.

There are hardly any randomized controlled nutritional studies with hard endpoints on the topic of meat consumption. In the Womensʼ Health Initiative Study, women who were randomized to a low-fat diet reduced their meat consumption by about 20%. However, this did not result in any difference in the various endpoints such as all-cause mortality, cancer or cardiovascular disease.”

In fact, it turns out that a purely plant-based diet might even produce the opposite effect.

“From the point of view of nutritional medicine, the distinction between animal and plant foods makes no sense anyway. Because not only vegetables, fruit and olive oil, but also sugar, soft drinks and all starch-rich white flour products are vegetables. With an assumed basal metabolic rate of 2,000 kcal, the “Planetary Health Diet” would correspond to an intake of more than 330 g of carbohydrates per day or 55-60% of the total calories. The PURE study had shown that such a high-carbohydrate diet is harmful to the vast majority of people and increases overall mortality (23, 24). It is not without reason that many experts consider carbohydrate reduction – “low carb” – to be a milestone in healthy eating.”

Lastly, Scholl also looks at the claim of environmental damage due to meat consumption. Here again, the accusation doesn’t match the crime.

“The argument that meat consumption is already sufficiently high – not least in Germany – and a further increase would definitely not be sensible may be true. But even if all of Germany were vegan, according to climate researcher Frank Mitloehner, the impact on global CO2 emissions would not even be measurable.

In the past it used to be said: “Meat is a piece of vitality”, today it is more likely: “Meat consumption is the number one climate killer” The content of such a statement is however just as questionable as statements about meat consumption that is harmful to health. According to updated data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the entire agricultural sector contributes 9.3 % of greenhouse gas emissions. However, more than three quarters come from transport (27.9 %), energy production (26.9 %) and industry (22.2 %). Fermentation in ruminants accounts for 2.7% of total emissions. Almost three times as much methane is released from fracking, landfills and coal and gasoline production, an aspect that is often overlooked.”

Meat consumption is under fire from activists who use questionable nutritional science to back up their claims. It is our responsibility as consumer choice advocates to set the record straight and defend choice in all aspects of life. This is not to say that we endorse eating meat per se. We defend the right of responsible consumers to make their own choices, with accurate data-points, driven by science, not ideology. 


Sources:

Zeraatkar D, Johnston BC, Bartoszko J, et al.: Effect of Lower Versus Higher Red Meat Intake on Cardiometabolic and Cancer Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Randomized Trials. Ann Intern Med 2019; 171 (10): 721–31 CrossRef MEDLINE

Zeraatkar D, Han MA, Guyatt GH, et al.: Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for All-Cause Mortality and Cardiometabolic Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies. Ann Intern Med 2019; 171 (10): 703–10 CrossRef MEDLINE

Han MA, Zeraatkar D, Guyatt GH, et al.: Reduction of Red and Processed Meat In-take and Cancer Mortality and Incidence: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies. Ann Intern Med 2019; 171 (10): 711–20 CrossRef MEDLINE

Johnston BC, Zeraatkar D, Han MA, et al.: Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Ann Intern Med 2019; 171 (10): 756–64 CrossRef MEDLINE

Vernooij RWM, Zeraatkar D, Han MA, et al.: Patterns of Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for Cardiometabolic and Cancer Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies. Ann Intern Med 2019; 171 (10): 732–41 CrossRef MEDLINE

Valli C, Rabassa M, Johnston BC, et al.: Health-Related Values and Preferences Regarding Meat Consumption: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med 2019; 171 (10): 742–55.
CrossRef MEDLINE

Carroll AE, Doherty TS: Meat Consumption and Health: Food for Thought. Ann Intern Med 2019; 171 (10): 767–8 CrossRef MEDLINE

Assaf AR, Beresford SAA, Risica PM, et al.: Low-Fat Dietary Pattern Intervention and Health-Related Quality of Life: The Women‘s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial. J Acad Nutr Diet 2016; 116 (2): 259–71 CrossRef MEDLINE PubMed Central


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

The CCC Testifies In British Columbia

On Friday, June 12th the Consumer Choice Center’s David Clement was invited to present to the British Columbia’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Services. In their annual review in the budgetary process, the province’s finance committee invites, and hears from experts, on various policies that impact the provincial budget.

As part of the consultation, David represented the CCC specifically on two key points:

  1. Urging the BC government to repeal it’s 20% vape tax
  2. Asking that the BC government remove the Provincial Sales Tax from medical cannabis.

Below is a copy of David’s remarks:

Hello members of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Services. I’d like to first off thank you for the ability to present here today, and to represent the voice of consumers in British Columbia. I’m David Clement, and I act as the North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center.

As a representative of a consumer advocacy group, I appear here today to ask that the Government of BC repeal its 20% vape tax, and remove PST from medical cannabis purchases.

For the vape tax, we urge the government to repeal the vape tax, for both cannabis products and nicotine, for the following reasons:

  1. Harm reduction: We know, from mountains of evidence, from credible public health agencies like Public Health England, that vape products are significantly less dangerous when compared to products that involve combustion. Because vape products are reduced risk products, we feel that the additional tax is counter-productive from a harm reduction perspective. Having additional taxation on cannabis and nicotine vape products, wrongly, signals to consumers that these products are more harmful than the alternatives, when the opposite is true. Taxation should be applied based on the continuum of risk, and this tax runs in the opposite direction.
  2. Black market alternatives: Specifically for cannabis, we know that the illegal market has long provided consumers with vaping products. Unfortunately, we also know that these black market products often contain dangerous thickening agents like Vitamin E Acetate. Vitamin e acetate is now known to be one of the main causes of vaping related illnesses in North America, which are not present in legal products, nor is it allowed to be in legal products. The 20% vape tax makes legal, regulated, and safe cannabis vapes considerably more expensive when compared to black market alternatives, which incentives consumers to purchase dangerous and unsafe products. It is important to remember that this 20% cannabis vape tax is added on top of the following taxes and fees that inflate the price of legal products:
    1. The federal excise tax
    2. The federal portion of the sales tax
    3. Application screening fees
    4. Security clearance fees
    5. Annual regulatory fee

The cannabis vape tax should be repealed because it simply piles on to the overtaxation of legal cannabis in this country, and only benefits illegal dealers, who’s products now become more attractive in terms of price. In order for the legal market to compete with the illegal market, it has to be able to offer products at comparable price points. The vape tax makes that nearly impossible.

Beyond the vape tax, we also strongly urge that the Province of BC remove the PST from medical cannabis products. The PST should be removed, firstly, because it would be the consistent thing to do. Other prescription medications in BC do not have the PST applied to them, thus removing PST would simply give parity to medical cannabis. Beyond that, it is incredibly unfair to have additional taxes for medical cannabis patients. In many instances patients are on fixed income, or even disability. It is disproportionate and punitive to add additional taxation to the medicine these patients have been prescribed by their doctors. It was a mistake for the federal government to apply a sales tax to medical cannabis, but luckily the province can somewhat right that wrong. 

Thank you for hearing my concerns, and I look forward to your questions. 


The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Johannesburg, Brasilia, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Fairness formula: free markets, rule of law, and consumer choice

In light of the Black Lives Matter protests, a statue of former UK Prime Minister Robert Peel, who, among other things, abolished the disastrous Corn Laws in 1846, has been defaced with socialist graffiti. As someone coming from a post-communist country who came to recognise and appreciate the role of free markets in bringing about prosperity, I was heartbroken. 

Communism, or socialism as its lower and more feasible version, has come to personify the Garden of Eden, the idealist dream of liberté, égalité, fraternité. In modern European history, socialism, as we know it today, started off as an outraged response to the ever-growing wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The complete lack of economic freedom in the form of excessive taxation and irresponsible public expenditure was at the heart of the French revolution. The same story then played out in Russia and resulted in the establishment of the USSR. The social order leading up to these and many similar uprisings was extremely unfair, but the cure was free markets, rule of law, and peace, not socialism, cronyism, and tyranny. 

This lesson of history is especially important and is usually overlooked. Free markets, and in particular free trade, have been key to reducing poverty all across the world. The right to choose that comes with economic freedom has led to individual empowerment in various other areas of life. While socialists’ promise of fairness and equality results in one type of consumer goods available on the shelves, long queues, one haircut for all, one school uniform, and extremely low level of innovation, capitalism celebrates the plentifulness of choices, individuality, and entrepreneurship. And yet free markets are increasingly blamed for all the evils in the world: wealth gap, gender inequality, and even climate change. 

It would be a mistake to claim that free markets are a perfect solution to all problems in the world, but it’s the best we have. If left unchecked and without proper incentives, capitalism can really become a brutal race in which those who obtained the most wealth – sometimes not by legal means – win. However, combined with institutional integrity, and the rule of law, free-market capitalism isn’t only the fairest solution based on merit and choice, it’s also the most desirable one. 

Let’s imagine, as in the famous Rawls’s experiment, that we know nothing about our individual identity meaning that we don’t know what gender we have, whether we are straight or gay, what is our skin colour, and whether we are rich or poor. For the experiment to work, we have to imagine that all of the people are in this position and we have to establish a new social contract. What would we want it to be?

Regardless of who we turn out to be, we would all end up as consumers and would want to enjoy the freedom to choose from the widest array of products. We would prefer them cheap – so taxes have to be low – and would like to get all the information we can about those products, and of course more innovation. When considering our position in the world under the veil of ignorance, we would likely also think about our lifestyle. Would we all want to agree to the state of things when we are told what to consume, or when someone intervenes into our voluntary exchange with other people? Likely not, unless we think about it from the standpoint of a government bureaucrat who might be driven by noble motives but still wants to control our lives. The majority of people standing behind the veil of ignorance wouldn’t buy into that anyway. 

In this experiment, I’m focusing on us as consumers because that is one of the key things that socialism in its pursuit of justice gets wrong. If we look at the world through the veil of ignorance, we would like to be able to make decisions for ourselves, we would want to coordinate in the markets between each other through price mechanisms, not have everything centrally planned. Government is an artificial creation with the mission to deliver on the social contract, and therefore protect our rights, in particular the right to live and property rights. What actually happens, though, is that governments often take our desirable social contract from us by force in favour of fewer markets, less economic freedom, and less consumer choice.

Fairness doesn’t mean equality of outcome, it is the equality of opportunity or the freedom to choose. Only free markets combined with the rule of law can safeguard these.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

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