Another Nail in the Coffin? Rotterdam Rules One for the Shelves?

When introduced more than a decade ago, the Rotterdam Rules were welcomed with great enthusiasm and many were optimistic that the Rules, which introduce a modern carriage regime suitable for the new century, would soon replace the old-fashioned Hague-Visby regime.

Not many believe that this is a genuine prospect any more. As of today only 4 countries have ratified the Rotterdam Convention, namely Cameroon, Congo, Spain and Togo and the Netherlands have recently taken the first steps towards ratification and implementation of the Rotterdam Rules by submitting two draft bills to Dutch Parliament. However, there seems to be no urgency amongst the trading nations to ratify the Rotterdam Rules. For example, the current administration in the US does not seem to be interested. The same is true for UK government which is at the moment consumed with BREXIT and its implications. Norway has appointed a law commission to review the Rotterdam Rules and its possible ratification, and the commission was in principle in favour of incorporating the Rotterdam Rules, but recommends that Norway does not ratify the convention before the US or any larger EU states do. Germany and Belgium expressed strong objections to the Rules. And China seems to be watching the developments at this stage showing no interest in ratifying the Convention but instead engaged in a review of its Maritime Code which will possibly introduce some aspects of the Rules into its national law.

But life goes on! And the news that Malaysian law makers decided to implement the Hague- Visby Rules into Malaysian domestic law is a very interesting one indeed. The Carriage of Goods by Sea (Amendment) Bill 2019 is expected to come into force in 2020. The amending bill does not set out the provisions of the Hague-Visby Rules but states that the Minister is entitled to amend the Schedule to the Act by order published in the Gazette (the Schedule presently sets out the provisions of the Hague-Visby Rules). So, the Rules will become part of Malaysian law after the Act comes into force and the Minister issues an order. The process might seem complicated for those who are not familiar with the constitution and public law of Malaysia but the step is important as it is a clear indication that emerging trading nations are now working under the assumption that no fundamental change will happen in this field and Hague Visby Rules will continue to dominate international carriage. There is no doubt that Rotterdam Rules introduce several sensible solutions to modern problems, i.e. electronic documents, which can be utilised when reforming national legal systems (and it is believed that China will do that) and some of its aspects might be introduced by contractual agreement into a carriage contracts, but it is also becoming clear that the Rules will probably not become part of international legal system.

For a legal analysis of Rotterdam Rules, you can read an article that the author wrote together with late Dr Theodora Nikaki:

A New International Regime for Carriage of Goods by Sea: Contemporary, Certain, Inclusive, and Efficient or Just Another One for the Shelves?’ (2012) 30 Berkeley Journal of International Law pp 303-348

Dr-Theodora-Nikaki

Dr Nikaki talking about Rotterdam Rules at IISTL’s 10th International Colloquium

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