Something for the New Year. INCOTERMS 2020 are coming.

INCOTERMS 2010 will be updated to INCOTERMS 2020 which comes into effect on 1 January 2020. The main changes are as follows.

Under FCA if the parties agree, the buyer, at its cost and risk, must instruct the carrier to issue to the seller a transport document (e.g. a bill of lading with an on-board notation) stating that the goods have been loaded, which the seller must then provide to the buyer.

Under CIP sellers will need to obtain cargo insurance cover which complies with Clauses (A) of the Institute Cargo Clauses (LMA / IUA) which, subject to certain exclusions, cover “all risks”, subject to the parties’ right to agree to a higher or lower level of cover.

DAT (Delivered at Terminal) now becomes DPU (Delivered at Place Unloaded).

FCA, DAP, DPU now allow the Seller to use its own transport rather than using a third party carrier.

Security obligations are made more prominent.

No implied term qualifying free standing demurrage provision in sale contract

 In Gunvor SA v CruGas Yemen Ltd [2018] EWHC 2061 (Comm) a term contract of sale was made for the sale of  gasoline by 12 monthly consignments cif Hodeidah. The buyer was named as CruGas Ltd but the claimant argued that the contract was made with CruGas Yemen Ltd, and that it had been unaware that within the relevant group there was a Cayman Islands company named CruGas Ltd. The claimant obtained performing vessels from a separate entity within its group of companies, Clearlake Shipping Pte Ltd (Clearlake), under a long-term contract of affreightment on an amended Asbatankvoy form. It claimed demurrage totalling $18m under the sale contract and claimed against CruGas Yemen Ltd and CruGas Ltd in the alternative. The defendants denied liability for demurrage on three grounds. First, the demurrage claims were time-barred by reason of a demurrage time bar provision in the COA. Second, a term should be implied into the sale contract that the claimant was required to prove the demurrage rates claimed were “in line with the market rate”. Third, the claimant had to prove that it paid the demurrage sums it claimed under the sale contract.

Phillips J first found that the contract had been made with CruGas Yemen Ltd, and then proceeded to reject all three of the buyer’s arguments. First, it was established in OK Petroleum AB v Vitol Energy SA [1995] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 160 that words of general incorporation in a sales contract concerning demurrage provisions in a separate charter did not bring in terms ancillary to the accrual of demurrage, such as time bars relating to the presentation of demurrage claims. Second, there was no justification for the implication of the term contended for, which was neither necessary for the business efficacy of the sale contract, nor would give effect to the obvious but unexpressed intentions of the parties at the time they contracted. In any event, expert evidence from a chartering expert, was that the demurrage rates were all consistent with the market, insofar as such a thing could be said. Third, the demurrage provision under the sale contract was free-standing and not an indemnity.

 

Remedies for delivery without production of the bill of lading

A case in the CA of some interest today. Imagine carriers or forwarding agents have delivered goods to a buyer without getting payment for them. No point in suing the buyer in 99% of such cases: and often carriers and forwarding agents will be men of straw too (remember in addition that P&I clubs won’t sub up for this sort of thing). But had you thought of suing the rich man behind the buyer who sweet-talked the forwarding agent or carrier into letting the goods go without payment? You hadn’t? It’s actually a classic case, in most situations, of inducing breach of contract: a point confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Michael Fielding Wolff v Trinity Logistics [2018] EWCA Civ 2765, upholding Sara Cockerill QC at first instance. Happy hunting.

Rotterdam Rules in Cameroon’s hat-trick of international trade conventions.

 

Just over a year ago on 11 October 2017 Cameroon ratified or acceded to three UNCITRAL Conventions.

  1. Cameroon ratified the Rotterdam Rules. There are now four states that have ratified. Sixteen more to go before the Convention comes into force. At the current rate we’ll be there in 2058.
  2. Cameroon acceded to the he United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (1980) (CISG) which comes into force for Cameroon on 1 November 2018.
  3. Cameron acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts (2005) which came into force for Cameroon on 1 May 2018.

Carriers and bills of lading: an unexpected duty to arbitrate.

An important point for bill of lading holders arose a couple of days ago in the Commercial Court. Everyone knows that you have to watch your back when becoming the holder of a bill of lading, in case you end up with not only the right to sue the carrier but also the duty to foot the bill for an insolvent shipper’s liabilities.

Traditionally the teaching has been: you are safe unless you take or demand delivery of the goods or make a claim against the carrier. It follows that if you are pretty sure you never did any of those things but nevertheless receive a demand from the carrier, you can smugly respond “Nothing doing. Sue me if you dare.” So far so good. But what if you receive a demand for arbitration pursuant to an arbitration clause contained in the bill? Can you still say “See you in court”, or are you now bound to arbitrate the claim, with the risk of losing by default if you do nothing? This was the point that arose in Sea Master Shipping Inc v Arab Bank (Switzerland) Ltd [2018] EWHC 1902 (Comm), where Popplewell J preferred the latter answer.

A bank financed A, a seller of Argentine extracted toasted soya meal, who voyage-chartered a vessel to deliver it to Moroccan buyers. The transaction was a disaster for A, with the deal and a series of replacements falling through and the vessel sailing round North Africa and the Mediterranean, rather like Captain Hendrick’s Flying Dutchman, in search of someone somewhere to love the cargo. Big demurrage liabilities built up. The bank meanwhile acquiesced in the issue of a switch bill with a LMAA arbitration clause incorporated, naming it as consignee. A being (one assumes) insolvent, the owners claimed against the bank and claimed arbitration, alleging the bank was liable either as an original party to the switch bill, or as a transferee of it.

The arbitrators declined jurisdiction, on the basis that there was no evidence the bank had become liable on the bill under s.3 of COGSA 1992 and thus that the bank was not bound by the arbitration clause. However, on a s.67 application Popplewell J disagreed. The arbitration agreement was, he said, separate from the rights and liabilities under the bill itself: as soon as the bank fell to be treated as a party to the bill under s.2 of the Act, it was bound fully by any arbitration provision in it. It followed that the case had to be remitted to the arbitrators with a direction to continue with their hearing of the claim.

A result which, one suspects, will please neither banks nor traders, since it deprives both of the advantage of inertia: but there you are. At least carriers will be happy.

Of sales, bills of exchange and arbitration

Picken J today revisited an old chestnut in arbitration law. Suppose you sell goods or services and draw on the buyer for the price (yes, some people still do this), and have a standard arbitration clause referring to “all disputes arising out of or in connection with this Contract”. Does the arbitration clause cover a claim on the bill of exchange, as against one on the underlying contract of sale? Just this happened in Uttam Galva Steels Ltd v Gunvor Singapore Pte Ltd [2018] EWHC 1098 (Comm), where the buyer made a s.67 application challenging an LME arbitration tribunal that had said yes and had then given judgment against it on the bill. In fact the buyer had introduced the point out of time, so the point was a non-starter.  But even without that it would, said Picken J, have failed. On the basis of modern arbitration practice as evidenced in Fiona Trust v Privalov [2007] UKHL 40; [2007] 4 All E.R. 951 parties should not lightly be taken to have agreed to bifurcated dispute resolution according to whether the action was being brought on the bill or on the contract. Dicta in Nova (Jersey) Knit Ltd v Kammgarn Spinnerei GmbH [1977] 1 WLR 713, 731 and the Singapore decision in Rals International Pte Ltd v Cassa di Risparmio di Parma e Piacenza SpA [2016] SGCA 53 failed to convince him otherwise.

On balance it is suggested that his Lordship was right. It is true (as he admitted) that the result is that those who sell under bills of exchange may inadvertently give up the right they would otherwise have to summary judgment on the bill with few if any questions asked under the ‘pay now, sue later’ principle. But summary judgment is equally available under the underlying contract, and the fact that this may be precluded by an arbitration clause never seems to have unduly worried anyone.

If the claim is brought on the bill by an indorsee who is a holder in due course, then presumably the result will be different: the holder here can hardly be bound by any arbitration clause — as indeed was held in Rals International Pte Ltd v Cassa di Risparmio di Parma e Piacenza SpA [2016] SGCA 53, where the claimant was the indorsee of a promissory note. But this need not detain us.

Meanwhile, the sensible reaction for a commercial lawyer is a simple one: say what you want. Where payment is or may be made by a bill of exchange, it is hardly rocket science to draft the arbitration clause to as to embrace “all disputes arising out of or in connection with this Contract, including cases where the claim is brought under a bill of exchange or promissory note”, or (if you prefer) “all disputes arising out of or in connection with this Contract, save for cases where the claim is brought under a bill of exchange, promissory note or similar instrument”. You may do students of commercial law out of a bit of technical learning, but you sure will save your clients a good deal of heartache and very possibly money.

Opening a letter of credit on time. Condition or innominate term?

Is the buyer’s obligation to open a letter of credit by a specified time a condition or an innominate term? The tribunal in London Arbitration 12/18 found that it was an innominate term. The sale contract of 6 September had stipulated that a letter of credit be opened within two banking days from the dated of the contract. On 8 September no letter of credit had been opened and the sellers on 9 September terminated the contract and made arrangements to return the deposit. They claimed that the buyers had repudiated the contract by failing to open a letter of credit on time.

The tribunal held that a contractual requirement for the provision of a letter of credit did not always have to be read as a condition. Although the provision of a letter of credit would frequently be a condition precedent to performing obligations under a contract, for example to load a ship (Kronos Worldwide Ltd v Sempra Oil Trading SARL [2004] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 260), that was not to be equated with a condition of a contract. A term was only to be categorised as a condition if any assumed breach of it would deprive the innocent party of substantially the whole benefit of the contract.

In the present case, where the obligation to provide a letter of credit was related to the contract date and where the first shipment date was three or more weeks later, the tribunal was not able to conclude that the obligation should be treated as a condition rather than as an innominate term.

The breach by the buyers of the innominate term could not be regarded as depriving the sellers of substantially the whole benefit of the contract. Until a letter of credit would have been issued a few days later, it deprived them of security, but the substantial benefit of the contract was the sale and the profit the sellers anticipated making.

Accordingly, it was the sellers who had been in breach by terminating the contract on 9 September.

Demurrage claim against seller. Don’t blame your buyer if you don’t pay freight due under your charter.

 

London Arbitration 2/18 give us an interesting issue on causation arising out of two related contracts, a cfr sale contract, and the charterparty made by the seller. The cfr sale contract required buyers to pay charterparty freight to sellers as soon as possible after signing bills of lading; which they failed to do. The shipowners refused to release the ‘freight prepaid’ bill of lading until freight had been paid. The consequent delay resulted in the seller incurring a liability for demurrage at the discharge port under their charterparty. The tribunal held that the sellers were not entitled to an indemnity from the buyers in respect of their demurrage liability. Despite the provisions of the sale contract, the primary obligation to pay to the owners the charterparty freight remained with the sellers, as charterers of the vessel.  The sellers decided not to pay themselves the freight due to the owners and this broke any chain of causation there might have been between the buyers’ breach and the demurrage incurred by sellers under the charter. Alternatively, the sellers had failed to mitigate the damages to which the buyers’ breach exposed them and thereby incurred a liability for demurrage that could have been otherwise avoided.

Sale of goods — no need to prepare to collect something you know you won’t get

A textbook sale of goods decision today from Carr J in Vitol S.A. v Beta Renowable Group S.A. [2017] EWHC 1734 (Comm), which nevertheless has a few lessons for the rest of us. Beta, a Spanish real estate company that had branched out into the biofuels business, agreed to sell commodity traders Vitol 4,500 tonnes of cooking-oil-derived biodiesel fob Bilbao. Vitol had to have a vessel ready to lift it by midnight Friday 1 July and to nominate the relevant vessel by midnight Monday that week.

Things then went wrong. Communications from Beta culminating on Monday afternoon made it clear there wouldn’t be any biodiesel to lift. Vitol let the nomination time pass without doing anything, said on 7 July that they accepted Beta’s repudiation, and sued for loss of profit (including would-be hedging gains — more anon). Beta declined liability. They argued, with more hope than merit, that Vitol had not accepted their repudiation until much later, and had therefore remained bound to nominate a ship on Monday and take steps for delivery; not having done so, they were (said Beta) disabled from complaining of non-delivery.

Carr J held for Vitol, reasoning thus. First, while one could accept repudiation by mere omission, Vitol had not done so by failure to nominate, since this (non) act had not been unequivocal enough. They had therefore on principle remained bound to take steps to lift the oil. Nevertheless, given that it remained abundantly clear that there was nothing to collect, it would be ridiculous to require them to go to the trouble and expense of making idle preparations to collect it.

It followed that Beta were liable for substantial damages for non-delivery, whereupon a further nice point arose. Spurning traditional value less price as old hat, Vitol sought to claim their lost resale margin, plus in addition an alleged profit they would have made on buying in gasoil futures they had sold in order to hedge the transaction. Carr J was having none of it: there was no reason to allow actual resale profits in an ordinary commodity contract, and the futures were essentially a speculation on Vitol’s own account. So Vitol had to be content with market value damages.

Three points for commodity lawyers and others.

(1) It’s good to have confirmation that to enforce a contract you have generally to show merely that you would have been ready willing and able to satisfy any conditions on your right to performance, but for the other side’s repudiation: you don’t have actually to do an entirely futile act where that would serve no purpose.

(2) Damages: courts remain wary in straightforward commodity cases of departing from the time-honoured  value test in ss.50-51 of the Sale of Goods Act.

(3) Vitol will have been kicking themselves for not making it clear, when not nominating a ship, that they were specifically accepting Beta’s repudiation. One email, of negligible cost, would very likely have saved the cost of having the whole matter taken to the High Court. Solicitors for buyers and sellers, verb. sap.

Anticipatory breach and sale of blended cargo.

 

A victory for IISTL Member, Simon Rainey QC, leading counsel for the seller in Mena Energy DMCC v Hascol Petroleum Ltd. [2017] EWHC 262 (Comm). Disputes arose out of two sales, one of fuel oil, the other of gasoil, to an importer in Pakistan. The first shipment was of fuel oil  with a maximum  viscosity of 125 centistokes. The shipment required blending on the voyage to reduce its viscosity. On arrival at Karachi import was not permitted following sampling of the vessel’s tanks which showed that the cargo had a viscosity of 192.92 centistokes. The parties then agreed by telephone that the vessel would return to Fujairah where the cargo would be reloaded following further blending and would then return to Karachi. The buyer claimed that no final settlement had been reached but that the parties had merely agreed that if the vessel returned to Karachi by 26 November the existing bills of lading would continue to be used for calculating the price, but if it did not return by then the parties would revert to their rights under the original contract. The vessel returned to Karachi on 30 November and the buyer claimed damages for delay. The court held that the telephone agreement constituted a final settlement of all claims and counterclaims up to that point and that the seller merely undertook to use its best endeavours to ensure the vessel’s return to Karachi by 26 November. Even if the buyers were correct, the evidence showed that the cargo was in fact on spec at the time of the initial arrival at Karachi. The spot samples were drawn before any recirculation of the cargo had taken place. Running samples were more accurate than spot samples and hatch samples more accurate than samples drawn through the vessel’s closed sampling system.

 

With the second shipment, the buyers were obliged to open a letter of credit by 3 December and had failed to so. The previous day the sellers, seeing that it was clear that the buyers would fail to open the credit on time, cancelled the charterparty they had concluded for shipment. The court held that the obligation to open the credit did not depend on the existence of a charterparty, and that after 3 December, the buyer’s anticipatory breach became an actual breach for which the sellers were entitled to claim damages. In any event, the opening of a credit was a condition precedent to the seller’s obligation to supply the goods and there could be no question of the seller being in breach for failing to deliver cargo in circumstances where no letter of credit had been opened.