International trade law

International trade law is a complex set of rules which govern commerce between commercial entities in different countries. The rules which govern each international transaction can vary widely depending on:

  • The home nations of the parties involved
  • The industry
  • The agreement itself between the parties

What is international trade law?

International trade laws refer to a mixture of domestic laws and public international law that applies to transactions of goods and services across countries.

Specialist international trade solicitors can assist you with the following:

  • International contracts
  • International payment terms and protection
  • Resolving cross-border disputes
  • Tariffs and other protective measures
  • Customs issues
  • International transport
  • International Intellectual Property protection
  • EC/International Competition law
  • EC Trade law

There are various international trade laws and treaties that govern these transactions. The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) establishes a comprehensive code of legal rules governing:

  • The formation of contracts for the international sale of goods
  • The obligations of the buyer and seller
  • Remedies for breach of contract
  • Other aspects of the contract

However, the majority of international trade law is effectively governed by English law. Because of the historic position of the British Empire, it is now common for international contracts to stipulate that the governing law of that contract will be the law of England and Wales.

This is not the case however, when one of the contracting parties is American. Because of America’s economic position in the world it has become an industry standard to contract under US law when the contract includes an American entity.

International trade agreements

International trade agreements are agreements between two or more sovereign nations, in which trade (either as a whole or as part of a specific industry) is agreed to be regulated in a different manner than the way it is regulated before the agreement.

Trade agreements normally operate with a view to open borders and allow more freedom of movement for services and/or goods. Examples of such agreements are:

  • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  • EU trade agreements

Like all contracts, these agreements are defined by terms. Trade agreements usually do not have overly descriptive terms, as one might find in commercial contracts. Instead the trade terms are drafted in a broad manner which conveys the general concept behind the trade agreement.

This is the case because trade agreements are often entered into simultaneously by multiple nations, each with its own government and legal system. It is therefore impossible to draft international trade terms that will be equally effective in different legal systems.

If you are currently in a dispute which has its roots in transnational commerce, international trade law will likely have an effect on your rights. By speaking to a commercial solicitor who has specialist knowledge of international trade you will be able to ensure that you know your legal rights, and can make an informed decision.

For further information, see our guidance page on trade agreements.

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