Uniform Rules for Demand Guarantees

Effective 01 July 2010

Introduction


The new URDG 758 succeed URDG 458. Over 17 years of practice (1992 - 2009), URDG 458 proved to be both successful and reliable. They were used by banks and businesses across continents and industry sectors. URDG 458 were endorsed by international organizations, multilateral financial institutions, bank regulators, lawmakers and professional federations. In contrast to the failed Uniform Rules for Contract Guarantees (URCG 325), URDG 458 reflected the reality of the international demand guarantee market and struck the most reasonable balance between the interests of all the parties involved. By choosing to instruct a guarantor to issue a demand guarantee subject to URDG, applicants renounced their ability to obstruct payment for reasons derived from their relationship with the beneficiary. In turn, beneficiaries were expected to state in general terms - but not to justify, establish or prove - the nature of the applicant's breach in the performance of the underlying relationship. Finally, because a demand guarantee is an independent undertaking, guarantors were assured that their commitment was subject to its own terms. They were insulated from the performance contingencies of the underlying relationship.

Their incremental use, backed by the support of ICC, enabled URDG 458 to make a critical contribution towards levelling the playing field among demand guarantee issuers and users regardless of the legal, economic or social system in which they operate.

Yet, URDG 458 formed the first attempt by ICC to codify independent guarantee practice. Over the years, the application of their provisions shed light on the need for drafting adjustments, clarifications, expansion of scope or clear corrections of the adopted standard. Views reported to the ICC Task Force on Guarantees from URDG users worldwide provided the necessary material to launch a revision of URDG 458 that both the lapse of time and the evolution of practice made necessary. The revision was launched in 2007 and was conducted under the aegis of both the ICC Banking Commission and the Commission on Commercial Law and Practice (CLP).

The ICC Task Force on Guarantees, the standing expert body created by ICC in 2003 to monitor international guarantee practice, acted as a consultative body to a Drafting Group that produced five comprehensive drafts during the two and a half year revision process. Each draft was submitted for review and comments to ICC national committees. Over 600 sets of comments were received from a total of 52 countries and were thoroughly examined. These comments were instrumental in shaping the new rules. Regular progress reports were presented to meetings of each of the ICC commissions considering the rules and were comprehensively debated. This method ensured that the revision takes into account views received from a broad cross-sector of concerned parties.

The resulting URDG 758 were adopted by the ICC Executive Board on 3 December 2009, following endorsement by the members of the two sponsoring commissions. They will come into force on July 1, 2010. The new rules apply to any demand guarantee or counter-guarantee where incorporated by reference in the text. They can also apply as trade usage or by implication from a consistent course of dealing between the parties to the demand guarantee or counter-guarantee where so provided by the applicable law.

The new URDG 758 do not merely update URDG 458; they are the result of an ambitious process that seeks to bring a new set of rules for demand guarantees into the 21st century, rules that are clearer, more precise and more comprehensive.

Clearer URDG. The new URDG 758 aim for clarity. They adopt the drafting style of ICC's universally accepted Uniform Rules for Documentary Credits (UCP 600) by bringing together the definitions of terms in one article. They also bring a much needed clarification of the process according to which a presentation will be checked for conformity.

More precise URDG. A number of the standards contained in URDG 458 left a margin for interpretation that varied according to the particular facts of the case. This was particularly true for the terms "reasonable time" and "reasonable care". The new URDG have excluded all imprecise standards with an aim to foster certainty and predictability. Examples are time durations for the examination of a demand, the extension of a guarantee in the case of force majeure, and the suspension of the guarantee in the case of an extend or pay demand.

More comprehensive URDG. Important practices were left out of URDG 458. This was particularly the case for the advice of a guarantee, amendments, standards for examination of presentations, partial, multiple and incomplete demands, linkage of documents, and transfer of guarantees. In addition, there was only fragmentary treatment of counter-guarantees. What was understandable at the time of the first attempt to codify demand guarantee practice can no longer be accepted 17 years later. The new URDG 758 now cover all of these practices and make clear that provisions governing guarantees apply equally to counter-guarantees.

Balanced URDG. The new URDG 758 endorse and build on the balanced approach that characterized URDG 458. For example:

- The beneficiary is entitled to payment upon presentation of a complying demand without the need for the guarantor to seek the applicant's approval. The new URDG also correct an unfair situation that would have left the beneficiary without recourse to the guarantee in the case of force majeure if its expiry coincided with the interruption of the guarantor's business.

- The guarantor's independent role is expressed in stronger and clearer terms and, more importantly, it is now expressed in exclusively documentary terms. The new URDG expect the guarantor to act diligently. For instance, a guarantor is expected to reject a non-complying demand within five business days by sending a rejection notice that lists all of the discrepancies; otherwise, the guarantor will be precluded from claiming that the demand is non-complying and will be compelled to pay. Largely accepted in documentary credit practice under the UCP, the preclusion sanction is necessary to discipline unfair practices that work to the detriment of the beneficiary.

- The applicant's right to be informed of the occurrence of the key stages in the lifecycle of the guarantee is acknowledged in the new rules. However, this information should not be a prerequisite for payment when a complying demand is presented.

Innovative URDG. The new URDG 758 feature a number of innovations dictated by the development of practice and the need to avoid disputes. An example is the new rule that proposes a substitution of currencies when payment in the currency specified in the guarantee becomes impossible. Another example is the new termination mechanism for guarantees that state neither an expiry date nor an expiry event. This solution is expected to reduce the number of open-ended guarantees that severely penalize applicants and are incompatible with the banks' capital requirements.

The Guide. The rationale, preparatory work and interpretation of each article of the new URDG 758 can be found in a separately released Guide to the rules (ICC Publication No. 702).

The new URDG 758 package. The new rules are accompanied by a model guarantee and counter-guarantee form featured at the end of this publication. They are destined to evolve into an indispensable companion to the new URDG 758 and their users. Experience shows that a comprehensive ready-to-use package that combines both the rules and model forms is more attractive to users than the previously separate ICC publications Nos. 458 and 503. It should also be conducive to more harmonized a practice.

In drafting the new URDG 758 model guarantee form, a unitary approach was preferred to one that would have consisted of multiple forms linked to the purpose of each guarantee. Tender, performance, advance payment, retention money, warranty and other types of demand guarantees share the same nature and have similar features. This was evidenced by the five nearly identical basic model guarantee forms in ICC publication No. 503 that accompanied URDG 458. Of course, URDG 758 users have the option of enriching the unitary model form with one or more of the clauses proposed at the end of this publication such as the reduction of amount clause for advance payment guarantees or even drafting any other clause outright.

A final message: the need for clear drafting. Clear drafting is the linchpin of a successful international demand guarantee practice. This has proven to be the case over time and across cultures and industry sectors. Using the new URDG 758 model guarantee form levels the playing field and avoids misunderstandings. As such, it will hopefully significantly curb the worrying tendency that a few courts have shown in recent years to re-characterize demand guarantees as accessory suretyships - or the reverse. While sometimes warranted by the ambiguous terms used by the parties, such interference has considerably destabilized the international guarantee market by adding a particularly prejudicial element of uncertainty. Such a regrettable situation can be remedied by a consistent use of URDG 758 and their accompanying model form in any type of demand guarantee or counter-guarantee or, indeed, any other independent undertaking.

Acknowledgments. I would like to express my deep appreciation to the members of the ICC Task Force on Guarantees*, the ICC national committees and members of both the Banking Commission and CLP for their guidance, support and constructive participation in the revision. The Guarantees Department of RZB was very helpful in processing the hundreds of national comments received throughout the revision process and compiling them for the Drafting Group's review.

It was my privilege to chair the Drafting Group that undertook the revision. The members of the Drafting Group are listed below in alphabetical order:

Roger Carouge (Germany), Sir Roy Goode (United Kingdom), Dr Andrea Hauptmann (Austria), Glenn Ransier (United States), Pradeep Taneja (Bahrain), and Farideh Tazhibi (Islamic Republic of Iran).

Rarely has a chairman been blessed with a group whose members are so experienced and enthusiastic about the subject at hand, animated by team spirit, complementary in their regional and sectoral experience and able to endure with admirable patience the inevitable challenges of a fast-track revision process.

The result is the new URDG 758, which we proudly offer to the world.

Dr. Georges Affaki
Vice-Chair, ICC Banking Commission
BNP Paribas
January 2010