As online shopping becomes more popular among residents, some members of Qatar’s influential Advisory (Shura) Council have called for stricter e-commerce regulations to protect consumers.
Speaking at a meeting yesterday, council member Rashid al-Midadi said he was particularly concerned about food and medicine being sold without the approval of the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (Baladiya) and the Ministry of Public Health, respectively, according to a report in Al Raya.
However, al-Midadi was also quoted as saying that he was responding to “reliable information from specialized entities” about the sale of human organs and illegal drugs online.
According to the newspaper, al-Midadi and his colleagues agreed to invite specialists from the Ministry of Transport and Communications to the council’s next meeting with an eye on introducing new protections to keep residents safe and prevent them from being swindled online.
The Shura Council’s concerns come as other branches of government are working to make it easier for entrepreneurs in Qatar to launch e-commerce businesses.
Qatar’s e-commerce consumer market is already valued at US$1.02 billion, some 40 percent of which comes from airline tickets and electronics, ictQatar said last fall.
The average resident spends $3,453 annually online, which is the highest in the MENA region, the ministry added at the time.
In October, ictQatar released an e-commerce strategy that contained several strategies to make it easier for residents to buy and sell items on the internet.
One of the first steps, it said at the time, was to permit private courier companies to compete against state-owned Qatar Post to deliver parcels within the country.
It also recognized that the country’s current business regulations are impractical for some digital entrepreneurs who may lack the formal office space that’s technically required to start a new business:
“Qatar hosts a significant number of ‘gray-market’ e-commerce enterprises that predominately use social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest to market their products. These enterprises are typically home-based and do not have a company registration, and thus operate outside the country’s legal, commerce context,” the Qatar National E-Commerce Roadmap 2015 said.
While e-commerce technology and platforms may be rapidly evolving, Qatar already has a myriad of laws covering patents and trademarks that make counterfeit goods illegal.
Additionally, consumer protection laws make it illegal for suppliers to misrepresent the ingredients or nature of the product being sold.
Muhammad Abdullah al-Sulaiti, another Shura Council member, was quoted as saying that Qatar’s existing laws are sufficient to address any commercial violations, adding that e-shopping has become a “legitimate reality.”
Nevertheless, he also reportedly argued that there needs to be more regulation of Qatar’s e-commerce sector and, using the example of food retailers, said businesses should be licensed and supervised by both the Ministry of Municipality and Environment as well as the Ministry of Economy and Commerce.