Making Commercial Law: Essays in Honour of Roy Goode

By Ross Cranston; Royston Miles Goode | Go to book overview

11
The Bifocal World of International Sales: Vienna and Non-Vienna

MICHAEL G. BRIDGE


A. The Convention and the United Kingdom

Delivering his maiden speech in the House of Lords,1 Lord Steyn drew attention to the 'full and constructive role' played by the United Kingdom in formulating the Vienna Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (the CISG), which has been in force since 1988 and has secured more than 40 ratifications. It had been estimated by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law ( UNCITRAL) that a half of world trade was conducted on its terms. Yet the United Kingdom had not ratified the convention, despite a recommendation by the Law Commission that this be done, and no official announcement had been made. The Government's response to Lord Steyn was that it 'continue[d] to take an active part in the business of the convention' (whatever that might mean for a private law convention of 1980 coming into force in 1988), and would bear his observations in mind in formulating future plans. This is not a response to encourage those who favour the ratification of the CISG in this country.

It is one of the paradoxes of the modern United Kingdom, evident in its membership of the European Union, that a country whose very lifeblood is international trade, and which through its history has developed a global strategic vision, should have such an impoverished sense of internationalism. The law of international sale of goods, as understood in this country, is but English domestic law writ large. It is that law which applies to international commodities contracts conducted on standard form terms promulgated by London-based trading associations. It is that law which appears time and again in the pages of the law reports. Any reader of these reports might be forgiven for believing that the typical international trading contract is concluded by English merchants for the sale of 20,000 tonnes of soya beans shipped c.i.f. Rotterdam on GAFTA terms from a Gulf of Mexico port of the seller's choice, to be broken up on destination and transhipped to various European ports. The provisions of CISG, which is expressly

____________________
1
Hansard, H. L., Vol. 563, cols. 1457 et seq, 3 May 1995.
I am grateful for the comments of my colleague James Fawcett who is not responsible for remaining errors and omissions.

-277-

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