Updating international trade law to take account of new technologies, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a new convention on using electronic communications in international contracting, superseding law negotiated before the development of e-mail and the Internet.
The new Convention, approved on Wednesday, will assure companies and traders worldwide that contracts negotiated electronically are as valid and enforceable as traditional paper-based transactions. The provisions deal with such issues as determining a party's location in an electronic environment; the time and place of dispatch and receipt of electronic communications and the use of automated message systems for contract formation.
Other provisions contain criteria establishing functional equivalence between electronic communications and paper documents, including "original" paper documents, and between electronic authentication methods and hand-written signatures.
The UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group on Electronic Commerce prepared the document from 2002 to late 2004 and adopted it at its 38th Session in Vienna, Austria, in July.
The Convention complements and builds upon earlier instruments prepared by UNCITRAL, the core legal body of the UN system in the field of international trade law, including the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce and the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Signatures.
The Convention will be open for signature by all States at UN Headquarters from next 16 January to 16 January 2008. A signature event could take place during UNCITRAL's 39th session in New York next year, from 19 June to 7 July, to promote State participation.