by Kim Christensen

Albert Einstein once said: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." The challenge, as Einstein implied, is to find the right balance.

In the world of documentary credits the same challenge applies. There are questions that seem to lend themselves to simple solutions, but there are also examples of the opposite. One of those is the topic for this article, the issuance date of a document presented under a documentary credit. On the one hand, this appears to be simple: the issuance date of a document is the date the document is issued. But the question is: how do the documentary credit rules tackle questions relating to the issuance dates of documents?

Starting points

When researching the question of issuance dates among ICC publications, the first stop is UCP 6001 sub-article 14 (i), which reads: "A document may be dated prior to the issuance date of the credit, but must not be dated later than its date of presentation." This sounds logical: it seems to treat an issuance date for what, in fact, it is: the date the document is issued. No more, no less.

Reading on in UCP 600, the issuance date appears again in the transport articles2. The next stop is sub-article 19 (a) (ii), which reads: "The date of issuance of the transport document will be deemed to be the date of dispatch, taking in charge or shipped on board, and the date of shipment ...". The title of this article is "Transport Document Covering at Least Two Different Modes of Transport".

There are similar provisions in the other transport document articles as well. For one not familiar with documentary credit operations, it may seem a bit strange to equate "date of issuance" with the "shipped on board date". Logically these two acts may occur at different points in time - and indeed this is often the case. Consequently, in order to understand this provision one must understand the importance of "date of shipment", which - in documentary credit transactions - is often determined by the date of issuance.

The date of shipment is used for a number of purposes in almost every documentary credit. For example, there is a default rule that documents must be presented not later than 21 calendar days after the date of shipment3.

In other words, the issuance date of a transport document is one means of determining a date of shipment. However, this does create some strange situations. Consider the following example:

- Credit requirement: "Beneficiary's fax copy advising flight number and date"

- The fax copy presented included the following information: "Flight/date: AA100/05.06.2010/AA101/07.06.2010".

- The air waybill presented included the following information in the field "Requested Flight/date": "AA100/05 AA101/07".

- The air waybill presented bears an issuance date 03.06.2010. The air waybill was refused by the issuing bank, which stated that the date of shipment differed among the documents, i.e., that the date of shipment on the air waybill was 3 June, while on the fax it was 5 June.

It would seem obvious that there is no conflict among the documents, especially when they are read in context. There was a transport route mentioned on the air waybill, which was identical to that on the fax. In addition, there was a date the air waybill was issued. But it is not difficult to understand why this discrepancy was cited. The answer to this lies in UCP 600 article 23: "An air transport document ... must ... indicate the date of issuance. This date will be deemed to be the date of shipment unless the air transport document contains a specific notation of the actual date of shipment ...".

In this case, there was no "specific notation of the actual date of shipment" because, by definition, the issuance date is the date of shipment. No doubt such a discrepancy would be difficult for a beneficiary to understand.

Insurance documents

The next step is the UCP 600 article covering insurance documents, namely sub-article 28 (e), which reads: "The date of the insurance document must be no later than the date of shipment, unless it appears from the insurance document that the cover is effective from a date not later than the date of shipment."

As in the case with transport documents, in UCP 600 the issuance date of an insurance document is not simply "the date the document it is issued". It is, in many cases, considered to be the date the insurance is effective. Often this is not the case. In any event, the issuance date is the issuance date.

Documents with an issuance date

As mentioned, a document may be dated prior to the issuance date of the credit but not later than presentation. Note the word "may". In fact, a document may or may not be dated. The issue is dealt with in ISBP 681 paragraph 13, a simple overview of which reveals that:

- Drafts, transport documents and insurance documents must be dated4;

- An invoice need not be dated5;

- It is expected that a required certificate or declaration in a separate document will be dated. However, its compliance will depend on the type of certification or declaration that has been requested, its required wording and the wording that appears in it6;

- Whether other documents require dating will depend on the nature and content of the document in question7.

Note that the above provisions only consider whether documents should be "dated"; they do not require a date of issuance.

ISBP paragraph 13 is dealt with in an ICC Opinion8. The background was the following discrepancy: "B/L does not bear an issuance date". The conclusion reached by the ICC Banking Commission was that "A document issued in the format provided is not discrepant if it does not contain a date of issuance. The shipped on board date would constitute the date of the bill of lading for the purpose of ISBP publication 681 paragraph 13."

This is a rather comforting conclusion. After all, what is important in terms of a bill of lading is that it be clear as to when the goods are on board. However, the Banking Commission's reasoning is somewhat confusing. It reads: "From the example of the bill of lading presented under this request for Opinion, there is no field for a place and/or date of issue. There is only a field labeled 'Shipped on Board Date'. The structure of a transport document is not governed by the UCP; this is for each shipping company or agent to determine. From the details relating to this particular bill of lading, there is no requirement for a date of issuance; therefore, completion of the shipped on board date serves two purposes: (1) the date of issuance of the document and (2) the date that the goods were shipped on board."

In other words, had there been a field for "a place and/or date of issue", the discrepancy would have been valid. This view seems to contradict the UCP 600 transport articles, which do not require transport documents to be dated. What is required is the date of shipment.

Purpose of issuance date

As noted above, there are various rules and practices concerning document issuance dates. These are not carved in stone and, to a large extent, depend on the document itself based on a "best evaluation" by the document examiner. One can argue whether this is good or bad. However, one overriding question remains: what is the purpose of requiring issuance dates on documents presented under documentary credits?

The issuance date of a document has been defined as "The date indicated on documents as their date of preparation ... "9. In documentary credit transactions, the basic rule is that a document may be dated prior to the issuance date of the credit, but must not be dated later than its date of presentation10. This makes sense. But what does not make sense is that a certain document must contain an issuance date. When the document is in your hand, it is issued! In my view, it would be wrong to refuse a document on the ground that it does not contain an issuance date. What should be relevant is that:

1. for transport documents, it should be possible to determine the date of shipment;

2. for insurance documents, the insurance cover should be effective between the ports/places mentioned in the credit; and

3. for other documents, if the document indicates that its validity depends on a date, then the document must be dated.

Although this may seem logical, this is not necessarily the case now. One can only hope that, during the revision of the ISBP, this issue will be clarified.

Kim Christensen is Vice President and Head of Trade Products and Business Relations at Nordea in Denmark.
His e-mail is

1. ICC Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (UCP 600).

2. UCP 600 articles 19-24.

3. UCP 600 sub-article 14 (c).

4. ISBP (2007) paragraph 13.

5. ISBP (2007) paragraph 62.

6. ISBP (2007) paragraph 13.

7. Ibid.

8. Official Opinion R 659/TA 634rev, 2005-2008.

9. date_of_the_documents.html

10. UCP 600 sub-article 14 (i).