Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits

Introduction


In May 2003, the International Chamber of Commerce authorized the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice (Banking Commission) to begin a revision of the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits, ICC Publication 500.

As with other revisions, the general objective was to address developments in the banking, transport and insurance industries. Additionally, there was a need to look at the language and style used in the UCP to remove wording that could lead to inconsistent application and interpretation.

When work on the revision started, a number of global surveys indicated that, because of discrepancies, approximately 70% of documents presented under letters of credit were being rejected on first presentation. This obviously had, and continues to have, a negative effect on the letter of credit being seen as a means of payment and, if unchecked, could have serious implications for maintaining or increasing its market share as a recognized means of settlement in international trade. The introduction by banks of a discrepancy fee has highlighted the importance of this issue, especially when the underlying discrepancies have been found to be dubious or unsound. Whilst the number of cases involving litigation has not grown during the lifetime of UCP 500, the introduction of the ICC’s Documentary Credit Dispute Resolution Expertise Rules (DOCDEX) in October 1997 (subsequently revised in March 2002) has resulted in more than 60 cases being decided.

To address these and other concerns, the Banking Commission established a Drafting Group to revise UCP 500. It was also decided to create a second group, known as the Consulting Group, to review and advise on early drafts submitted by the Drafting Group. The Consulting Group, made up of over 40 individuals from 26 countries, consisted of banking and transport industry experts. Ably co-chaired by John Turnbull, Deputy General Manager, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation Europe Ltd, London and Carlo Di Ninni, Adviser, Italian Bankers Association, Rome, the Consulting Group provided valuable input to the Drafting Group prior to release of draft texts to ICC national committees.

The Drafting Group began the review process by analyzing the content of the official Opinions issued by the Banking Commission under UCP 500. Some 500 Opinions were reviewed to assess whether the issues involved warranted a change in, an addition to or a deletion of any UCP article. In addition, consideration was given to the content of the four Position Papers issued by the Commission in September 1994, the two Decisions issued by the Commission (concerning the introduction of the euro and the determination of what constituted an original document under UCP 500 sub-article 20(b) and the decisions issued in DOCDEX cases.

During the revision process, notice was taken of the considerable work that had been completed in creating the International Standard Banking Practice for the Examination of Documents under Documentary Credits (ISBP), ICC Publication 645. This publication has evolved into a necessary companion to the UCP for determining compliance of documents with the terms of letters of credit. It is the expectation of the Drafting Group and the Banking Commission that the application of the principles contained in the ISBP, including subsequent revisions thereof, will continue during the time UCP 600 is in force. At the time UCP 600 is implemented, there will be an updated version of the ISBP to bring its contents in line with the substance and style of the new rules.

The four Position Papers issued in September 1994 were issued subject to their application under UCP 500; therefore, they will not be applicable under UCP 600. The essence of the Decision covering the determination of an original document has been incorporated into the text of UCP 600. The outcome of the DOCDEX cases were invariably based on existing ICC Banking Commission Opinions and therefore contained no specific issues that required addressing in these rules.

One of the structural changes to the UCP is the introduction of articles covering definitions (article 2) and interpretations (article 3). In providing definitions of roles played by banks and the meaning of specific terms and events, UCP 600 avoids the necessity of repetitive text to explain their interpretation and application. Similarly, the article covering interpretations aims to take the ambiguity out of vague or unclear language that appears in letters of credit and to provide a definitive elucidation of other characteristics of the UCP or the credit.

During the course of the last three years, ICC national committees were canvassed on a range of issues to determine their preferences on alternative texts submitted by the Drafting Group. The results of this exercise and the considerable input from national committees on individual items in the text is reflected in the content of UCP 600. The Drafting Group considered, not only the current practice relative to the documentary credit, but also tried to envisage the future evolution of that practice.

This revision of the UCP represents the culmination of over three years of extensive analysis, review, debate and compromise amongst the various members of the Drafting Group, the members of the Banking Commission and the respective ICC national committees. Valuable comment has also been received from the ICC Commission on Transport and Logistics, the Commission on Commercial Law and Practice and the Committee on Insurance.

It is not appropriate for this publication to provide an explanation as to why an article has been worded in such a way or what is intended by its incorporation into the rules. For those interested in understanding the rationale and interpretation of the articles of UCP 600, this information will be found in the Commentary to the rules, ICC Publication 601, which represents the Drafting Group’s views.

On behalf of the Drafting Group I would like to extend our deep appreciation to the members of the Consulting Group, ICC national committees and members of the Banking Commission for their professional comments and their constructive participation in this process.

Special thanks are due to the members of the Drafting Group and their institutions, who are listed below in alphabetical order.

Nicole Keller – Vice President, Service International Products, Dresdner Bank AG, Frankfurt, Germany; Representative to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

Laurence Kooy – Legal Adviser, BNP Paribas, Paris, France; Representative to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice.

Katja Lehr – Business Manager, Trade Services Standards, SWIFT, La Hulpe, Belgium, then Vice President, Membership Representation, International Financial Services Association, New Jersey, USA; Representative to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

Ole Malmqvist – Vice President, Danske Bank, Copenhagen, Denmark; Representative to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

Paul Miserez – Head of Trade Finance Standards, SWIFT, La Hulpe, Belgium; Representative to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

René Mueller – Director, Credit Suisse, Zurich, Switzerland; Representative to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

Chee Seng Soh – Consultant, Association of Banks in Singapore, Singapore; Representative to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

Dan Taylor – President and CEO, International Financial Services Association., New Jersey USA; Vice Chairman, ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

Alexander Zelenov – Director, Vnesheconombank, Moscow, Russia; Vice Chairman, ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice;

Ron Katz – Policy Manager, ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice, International Chamber of Commerce, Paris, France.

The undersigned had the pleasure of chairing the Drafting Group.

It was through the generous giving of their knowledge, time and energy that this revision was accomplished so successfully. As Chair of the Drafting Group, I would like to extend to them and to their institutions my gratitude for their contribution, for a job well done and for their friendship. I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the management of ABN AMRO Bank N.V., for their understanding, patience and support during the course of this revision process.

Gary Collyer
Corporate Director,
ABN AMRO Bank N.V., London, England
and Technical Adviser to the ICC Commission on Banking Technique and Practice
November 2006