United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)

3-23-2016 | by Benjamin Fleshman

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) is a commission of the United Nations whose goal is to standardize trade across international boundaries. Its intent is to promote commerce through providing a legal framework for international trade. UNCITRAL membership has increased since its original constitution in 1966, then consisting of only 29 nations, to now (as of 2002) include 60 nations. These nations include 14 African nations, 14 Asian nations, 8 Eastern European states, 10 Latin American/Caribbean nations, and 14 Western European or other nations.

UNCITRAL’s Main Purpose

According to the UNCITRAL website, there were nine original areas of basic concern for UNCITRAL:

  • International Sale of Goods
  • International Commercial Arbitration
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • International Payments
  • Intellectual Property
  • Elimination of Discrimination in Laws Affecting International Trade
  • Agency
  • Legalization of Documents

With the advent of technology, and the increasing presence of ecommerce, UNCITRAL has begun to include regulatory statutes regarding trade financing, contracts, transport, electronic commerce, procurement, international commercial conciliation, insolvency, security interests, online dispute resolution, and microfinance. They are a busy bunch.

UNCITRAL’s mandate also includes a provision to “coordinate the work of organizations active in the field of international law, both within and outside the United Nations system.” The purpose behind this is both to avoid duplication of efforts and promote cooperation, efficiency, consistency, and coherence with regards to international trade laws.

UNCITRAL’S Methods for Regulation

Model Laws: UNCITRAL will propose model laws, or exemplary laws, to the nations which pertain to the council. Each individual county can navigate the nuances of the model laws however they wish, but they must meet the minimum requirements of any law dealing with international trade that is established by UNCITRAL. Nations will pattern their own laws after the model law proposed by UNCITRAL, and this promotes unity amongst the 60 members of the council and their approach to international trade law. States are encouraged to make as few changes as possible so as to preserve the integrity and intent of the original law.

Guides to Enactment: Recent model laws given by UNCITRAL have also included a “guide to enactment,” or simple background information that will aid the implementation process. It would include a list of potential alterations which each nation may need to make to suit their individual needs and a discussion of certain matters which the model law does not discuss.

Conventions: Another technique for enacting laws is a convention. In order to participate in a convention, wherein participating nations establish binding legal obligations in order to further unify them, a representative formally deposit a “binding instrument of ratification or accession with the depository.” This makes certain that each nation is putting forth a concentrated effort to legislate in the best interest of everybody and is dedicated to harmony between nations.

Legislative Guides and Recommendations: There are occasions when it is not feasible to draft specific provisions and laws, such as a convention would do or a model law would represent. In such situations, UNCITRAL produces something more akin to guidelines than actual rules. These guidelines are typically used most when countries do not fully agree to a uniform text, but are willing to comply with broader requirements given by UNCITRAL. These guides and recommendations propose multiple solutions to a problem and leave it to the individual country to decide how to implement the guiding principle behind each solution.

Model Provisions: Model provisions are similar to model laws, but they are simple additions to already existing laws, annexes, or recommendations issued by UNCITRAL to promote unity in trade.