Relations Between the Rotterdam Rules and the Convention on the Carriage of Goods by Road

Cécile Legros | Ost Colloquium: Multimodal Transport

On December 11, 2008, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, known as the Rotterdam Rules. The Rotterdam Rules strive to extend and modernize the existing international regimes that regulate contracts for maritime carriage of goods. The Rotterdam Rules were intended to replace the Hague Rules, the Hague-Visby Rules, and the Hamburg Rules, in order to achieve uniformity of law in maritime carriage of goods. The United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) prepared the Rotterdam Rules during intergovernmental negotiations, which lasted for over ten years. The Comité Maritime International (CMI) conducted the preparatory work on the Rotterdam Rules. The final text was signed in Rotterdam in September 2009. Since then, twenty-four countries representing twenty-five percent of the world’s trade have signed the Rotterdam Rules.

Shipowner organizations have welcomed this new instrument because they firmly believe that it will achieve greater global uniformity for cargo liability and will streamline commerce through the use of electronic documentation. Moreover, “door-to-door” contracts involving multiple modes of transportation are covered in the Rotterdam Rules. The Rotterdam Rules will enter into force one year after ratification by the twentieth U.N. member state. Although widespread support for the Rotterdam Rules has been reported, the expectation is that it may be some time before they will enter into force. The ratification process is likely to be long because the text still needs to be understood and clarified.

Several arguments have been raised in opposition to ratification by E.U. Member States, one of which is particularly important. It concerns the possible conflict between the Rotterdam Rules and other unimodal conventions, notably the Convention for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR). This Article seeks to analyze these potential conflicts in light of the multimodal provisions of the Rotterdam Rules.