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International Standby Practices
by Dr. Gerold Herrmann, Secretary, United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)
It was an extremely interesting and enriching experience for me to assist in drafting ISP98. This participation allowed me to witness (and now bear witness to) the very thorough and pragmatic drafting process in a superbly selected group, with representatives of all interested sectors actively involved in standby letter of credit practice such as: bankers, especially those responsible for letter of credit operations and global trade transactions, bank counsel, attorneys, academics, regulators, government officials, corporate treasurers, and likely influential beneficiaries. The treasure trove of experience and expertise and the diversity of interests and perspectives proved invaluable in determining- as was continuously done by examining concrete practical examples- whether on a given issue an operational rule would be desirable and useful and, if so, which solution would work best and reflect good practice.
Continued participation in the preparatory work has also convinced me- as, I am sure, it would have anyone else- of the special characteristics of standbys at the operational level of practical detail and usage. Their special features, in my view, not only justify but also necessitate special contractual rules designed for standbys. As the constant comparison with the UCP clearly revealed, quite a few UCP Articles are inappro-priate for standbys and quite a few issues of paramount importance in standby practice are not addressed at all in the UCP. While a similar disparity in practice exists between the standby and the independent guarantee (the bank or demand guarantee European style), this seems particularly, if not exclusively, true for those types of actual use (e.g. financial standby, direct-pay standby) hitherto found only extremely rarely in guarantee practice. For this and other reasons, including firmness of the undertaking, I would not be surprised to see not only standbys but also some demand guarantees issued subject to ISP98.
For a professional unifier of law, participation in the preparatory work was particularly satisfying because of its interconnection with other harmonisation and reform efforts. In addition to the concordance with revised Article 5 UCC (the letter-of-credit law of the homeland of the standby) and the similarly close contact (and personal overlap) with the 1993 UCP revision task force, I am referring in particular to UNCITRAL's work which culminated in the adoption in 1995 by the General Assembly of the "United Nations Convention on Inde-pendent Guarantees and Stand-by Letters of Credit." The idea of preparing special operational rules for standbys was born during the extensive debates comparing national laws as well as the two instruments to be married by that Convention. Since bride and groom were presented there in all facets and critically scrutinized by their future in-laws, UNCITRAL's travaux preparatoires make for highly informative reading (as will future abstracts of court decisions to be published in UNCITRAL's case collection system called CLOUT; homepage: www.un.or.at/uncitral). It was gratifying to see the group preparing ISP98 refer continuously to the UNCITRAL Convention in order to ensure complete consistency. I must admit to special gratification by overhearing one of the world's leading letter of credit expert's remark to his banking colleague: "The more I look at this UN Convention, the more I really like it."
The above coordination or cooperation in the universal harmonisation and modernization efforts is welcome and in fact crucial because of the (often neglected or ignored) interdependence between the two very different levels of legal norms: the contractual level, where such sets of rules like ISP98, UCP 500, or URDG become effective by agreement of the individual parties, and the statutory level, where internationally elaborated law like the UN Convention or domestic law (e.g. Art. 5 UCC) recognise and give full effect to the exercise of that party autonomy and regulate certain issues that can effectively be settled only at that level (e.g. standards of fraud exception, injunctive relief and other court matters). Therefore, ISP98 and the Convention supplement each other in an ideal manner and together lay the necessary basis for a smooth functioning of standby practice worldwide.