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On 11 December 2008 the UN General Assembly adopted the “Convention of Contracts for the International Carrying of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea” and authorized a signing ceremony for the Convention to be held in Rotterdam, recommending the new Convention to be known as the “Rotterdam Rules”.

The Convention extends and modernizes the existing international rules relating to contract of maritime carriage of goods. The aim is that the Convention will replace The Hague Rules, The Hague-Visby Rules and the Hamburg Rules and that it will achieve uniformity of law in the field of maritime carriage.

The Rotterdam Rules have been prepared in intergovernmental negotiations that lasted for over 10 years by the United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). On the other hand the Comité Maritime International (CMI) conducted the preparatory work on the Convention at the request of UNCITRAL including a preliminary draft text for the Convention. The signing ceremony was held in Rotterdam from 20 to 23 September 2009. In the meantime the following – 25 – coutries have signed the Convention; Armenia, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, France, Gabon, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bisseau, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, the Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, Switserland, Togo, and the United States of America, all together representing 25% of the world’s trade.

To date  Spain, Togo and Congo have ratified the Rotterdam Rules.

The Convention will come into force one year after ratification by the 20th UN Member state. Although there is reported to the widespread support for the Convention, the expectation is that it may be some time before the Rotterdam Rules enter into force.

National progress?

Gavin Magrath (Magrath O’Connor, barristers of Toronto, Canada) made an enquiry with the members of ForwarderLaw about progress, if any, made in the members’ jurisdictions to ratify the Rotterdam Rules. The results for ratification seem rather negative. Summarizing the responses:

Argentina: although a group of lawyers and specialists in the field are trying to mobilize the subject, there is not, for the moment, any intention by the government to ratify the Rules. Moreover, there are also many groups that strongly oppose ratification in Argentina and the region, mainly in Uruguay (Montevideo Declaration).

Australia: no update at all on the Rules and no prospect on horizon.

Belgium: according to the Ministry of Transport (FOD Mobiliteit en Vervoer) not the slightest initiative for ratification. Belgium seems to opt to await the outcome of the (lasting) legislative initiative to enact a new national transportation law.

Canada: legislature will presumably not return to the issue of ratification unless and until the USA advance the agenda by ratifying.

China: no progress and unlikely China will be a party anytime soon.

Denmark: the Danish government established a committee to prepare for ratification and incorporation of the Rules and the committee delivered its report in April 2012. However, the Rules will hardly be ratified in Denmark until other major countries will ratify (including the USA) and any ratification would require a close co-ordination with the other Nordic countries.

France: no update and no sign that the Rules are on the agenda.

India: no progress and not on the agenda.

Ireland: no update at all and no prospect on horizon.

Israel: no sign that the Rules are on the agenda of the Israeli Parliament’s foreseen sessions.

New Zealand: nothing to report.

Philippines: no development in the Philippines for ratification of the Rules.

Singapore: no news at all about ratification.

Switzerland: nothing planned regarding ratification of the Rules.

The Netherlands: during the summer of 2013 it has become apparent that the Dutch Minister for Security and Justice will try and convince other states to ratify the Rotterdam Rules and prepare ratification. Meanwhile an Implementation Act Rotterdam Rules has been made and all relevant Dutch stakeholders have been given the opportunity to give their comments on the Act through an internet consultation.

UK: no movement to ratify at all.

Ukraine: no issue of ratification on the agenda in the Black Sea countries (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Turkey).

United Arab Emirates: not on the legislative agenda of the UAE and other Arabic countries in the Gulf Region.

The European Community Shipowners’ Association (ECSA), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO and the World Shipping Council (WSC) have greatly welcomed the clear recommendation by the European Parliament that EU Member States should move “speedily to sign, ratify and implement the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, known as the ‘Rotterdam Rules’, establishing the new maritime liability system”. The Rotterdam Rules, adopted by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) will replace the existing cargo liability regimes such as the Hamburg and Hague/Visby Rules.  Shipowner organisations firmly believe that this will achieve greater global uniformity for cargo liability, facilitating e-commerce through use of electronic documentation, reflecting modern ‘door to door’ services involving other modes of transport in addition to the sea-leg and ‘just in time’ delivery practices. Following a thorough and detailed analysis of the Rotterdam Rules, ECSA, ICS, BIMCO and WSC have all concluded that this important new regime must be promoted by the industry to avoid the risk of a proliferation of regional cargo liability regulations. However, early ratification of the UNCITRAL Convention by major trading nations, such as EU Member States, will almost certainly give this process critical momentum, as can be read on