Multi-Lateral Summaries > United Nations Commission on International Law (UNCITRAL)

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL or the Commission) was established in 1966 by the General Assembly (GA res. 2205 (XXI), 17 December 1966) to promote the harmonisation and modernization of the law of international trade. UNCITRAL gives effect to its mandate by preparing and promoting the use and adoption of legislative and non-legislative instruments (such as conventions, model laws, legislative guides etc.) in a number of key areas of commercial law. To date, the Commission has adopted texts in the following domains: International Sale of Goods; International Commercial Arbitration and Conciliation; Security Interests; Insolvency; International Payments; International Carriage of Goods; Electronic Commerce; Procurement and Infrastructure Development. In compliance with its mandate UNCITRAL also undertakes a range of technical cooperation and assistance activities to promote its work and the adoption, use and uniform interpretation of the legislative and non-legislative texts it has developed.

UNCITRAL members are selected from among States Members of the United Nations and represent different legal traditions and levels of economic development. Since 2002 UNCITRAL membership comprises 60 States which represent the various geographic regions and the principal economic and legal systems of the world. Member States include 14 African States, 14 Asian States, 8 Eastern European States, 10 Latin American and Caribbean States and 14 Western European and other States. The General Assembly elects members for terms of six years; every three years the terms of half of the members expire.

UNCITRAL’s work is organized and conducted at three levels. The first level is UNCITRAL itself, which works through an annual plenary session. The second level is the intergovernmental working groups, which to a large extent undertake the development of the topics on UNCITRAL’s work programme: the membership of the working groups currently includes all member states of UNCITRAL. The third level is the secretariat, staffed with United Nations legal officers, which assists the Commission and its working groups in the preparation and conduct of their work (e.g. drafting studies, reports, texts on topics that are being considered for possible future inclusion in the work programme, legal research etc.).

United Nations Member States not members of UNCITRAL, as well as international and regional organizations (both intergovernmental and non-governmental) with expertise in the topics under discussion are invited to attend both UNCITRAL annual sessions and working group sessions as observers.While decisions are taken by member States, the views of non-member States and observer organizations can be taken into account by the member States in determining their positions on the issues to be decided upon. The long-standing practice in the Commission is to reach decisions by consensus. As a result of this inclusive negotiation process, the texts are widely accepted as offering solutions appropriate to different legal traditions and to countries at different stages of economic development.

UNCITRAL technical cooperation and assistance activities include: organizing briefing missions and participating in seminars and conferences, organized at both national and regional levels; assisting countries in assessing their trade law reform needs, including by reviewing existing legislation; assisting with the drafting of national legislation to implement UNCITRAL texts; assisting bilateral and multilateral development agencies to use UNCITRAL texts in their law reform activities and projects; providing advice and assistance to international and other organizations, such as professional associations, organizations of attorneys, chambers of commerce and arbitration centres, on the use of UNCITRAL texts; and organizing training activities to facilitate the implementation and interpretation of legislation based on UNCITRAL texts by judges and legal practitioners. A summary of the technical assistance activities conducted each year is included in the annual report of UNCITRAL.

In order to fulfill those parts of its mandate concerning promotion of ways and means of ensuring uniform interpretation of international legal texts and dissemination of information on international trade law, in 1988 UNCITRAL decided to develop a system known as Case Law on UNCITRAL Texts (or CLOUT). Court decisions and arbitral awards relating to UNCITRAL legislative texts are collected in and disseminated through CLOUT with a view to promoting uniformity in the interpretation and application of those texts. The system is meant for use by judges, arbitrators, lawyers, parties to commercial transactions, academics, students and other interested persons. CLOUT relies on a network of national correspondents designated either by States parties to a convention or by States having enacted legislation based on a model law. CLOUT provides the background material to the digests, i.e. compilations of case law from different jurisdictions that analyze trends in the interpretation of a given UNCITRAL text. To date UNCITRAL has published a digest on the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (3rd edition) and a digest on the Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (1st edition). Both CLOUT and the Digests are available in the six United Nations official languages from the UNCITRAL website.

UNCITRAL ensures dissemination of information also through its Law Library, which is the specialized trade law library of the United Nations. Since its establishment, in 1979, the Library has supported the research needs of the UNCITRAL secretariat, participants in intergovernmental meetings convened by UNCITRAL, permanent missions, other Vienna-based international organizations, legal scholars and practitioners from around the world. The collection of the UNCITRAL Law Library focuses mainly on the area of international trade law. Currently, it consists of: over 10,000 monographs; 150 active journal titles; legal and general reference material, including non-UNCITRAL UN documents, and documents of other international organizations; and electronic resources (restricted to in-house use only). The UNCITRAL library collection covers materials in the six official UN languages, as well as in other languages.

In addition to official documents, UNCITRAL traditionally maintains two series of publications, namely the texts of all instruments developed by the Commission and the UNCITRAL Yearbook. Publications are regularly provided in support of technical cooperation and assistance activities undertaken by the Secretariat, as well as by other organizations where the work of UNCITRAL is discussed, and in the context of national law reform efforts.

TCB-related programme

Technical cooperation and assistance activities include providing advice to States considering signature, ratification or accession to UNCITRAL conventions, adoption of an UNCITRAL model law or use of an UNCITRAL legislative guide. They also include guidance on the uniform interpretation of those texts.

Technical cooperation and assistance activities increasingly focus on regional approaches, including in cooperation with regional economic integration organizations; on the promotion of newly adopted treaties, with a view to fostering their early adoption; and on promoting the universal adoption of texts considered fundamental to the development of a framework for international trade. Initiatives to further these strategies complement technical cooperation and assistance efforts undertaken in response to requests for technical assistance received from Governments and permanent missions to the United Nations, as well as from international and regional organizations and a range of commercial and professional organizations. Once the UNCITRAL secretariat receives a request, it liaises with the requesting country or organization to identify the goals of the technical assistance and consider the nature of the assistance required and the manner in which it can best be provided. Where the request is from a country, an essential part of that consideration is the provision of information on the country’s commercial legal system, including current law reform programs and initiatives, in particular, those related to UNCITRAL texts. Technical assistance is organized in consultation with the requesting country or organization to ensure the identified goals are met.

As to the regional dimension, an UNCITRAL Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific was established in Incheon, Republic of Korea, in January 2012. The main objectives of the Regional Centre are to enhance international trade and development in the Asia-Pacific region by promoting certainty in international commercial transactions through the dissemination of international trade norms and standards, in particular those elaborated by UNCITRAL; to provide bilateral and multilateral technical assistance to States with respect to the adoption and uniform interpretation of UNCITRAL texts through workshops and seminars; to engage in coordination activities with international and regional organizations active in trade law reform projects in the region; and to function as a channel of communication between States in the region and UNCITRAL.

Partnerships

An important part of the UNCITRAL mandate is to coordinate the work of organizations active in the field of international trade law, both within and outside the United Nations in order to encourage cooperation between them, avoid duplication of effort and promote efficiency, consistency and coherence in the modernization and harmonization of international trade law. Therefore, UNCITRAL maintains close links with international and regional organizations, both intergovernmental and non-governmental, that are active participants in the work of UNCITRAL and in the field of international trade law in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information as well as preparation of studies and conducting of seminars in conjunction with such organizations. UNCITRAL is represented, through its secretariat, at meetings of those organizations and actively follows and participates in their work where it relates to topics on UNCITRAL’s work programme. Those organizations include, for instance, the International Maritime Committee (CMI); the Hague Conference on Private International Law; the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (Unidroit); the Organization of American States (OAS); the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); UNCTAD; the United Nations regional commissions; the World Bank; the World Customs Organization (WCO); WIPO; and the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 2011 UNCITRAL has launched with EBRD an Initiative on Enhancing Public Procurement Regulation in the CIS Countries and Mongolia. UNCITRAL actively cooperates with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (“GIZ”) to promote legislative reform in South East Europe and it is a member of the United Nations Inter-Agency Cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity.

TCB activities in this guide

LEGAL AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

  • Provision of legal advice