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The Role of The CISG in U.S. Contract Practice: An Empirical Study

46 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2016 Last revised: 14 Jun 2017

John F. Coyle

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: March 28, 2016

Abstract

The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) operates as an “international” version of UCC Article 2 — it supplies the governing law when a U.S. company enters into a contract for the sale of goods with a foreign counterparty. Scholars have long debated the role that the CISG plays in contract practice in the United States. Some argue that the CISG has come to be embraced, if slowly, by U.S. lawyers. Others contend that the CISG has yet to achieve widespread acceptance within the U.S. legal community. Prior studies have sought to resolve this debate by looking to surveys of practicing attorneys. This Article seeks to shed light on this question by looking to actual contracts entered into by U.S. companies.

The Article draws upon a hand-collected dataset of more than 5,000 contracts — along with interviews with several lawyers who had a hand in their drafting — in an attempt to better understand the role that the CISG plays in U.S. contract practice. The Article shows that: (1) many U.S. companies reflexively exclude the CISG without inquiring as to whether it would apply of its own force, (2) U.S companies virtually never select the CISG as the law to govern their agreements, (3) there is no industry or geographic location within the United States where the CISG has been affirmatively embraced, (4) some U.S. companies that had selected the CISG in the past now have a policy of excluding it from their contracts, and (5) U.S. companies are frequently unaware that selecting the law of a U.S. state can result in the application of the CISG.

These findings suggest a number of important insights. First, they show that past surveys of U.S. lawyers dramatically overstate the extent to which the CISG has gained acceptance within the U.S. legal community. Second, they indicate that contract practice with respect to the CISG can and does vary from nation to nation. The dataset contracts show that Chinese solar companies, in contrast to their U.S. counterparts, have embraced the CISG. Third, and finally, they highlight the potential unfairness of requiring unsophisticated U.S. companies to litigate international contract disputes under a set of treaty rules that are routinely avoided by their more sophisticated brethren.

Keywords: United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods; CISG; Choice-of-law Clauses; Sales Agreements; Uniform Commercial Code; International Business Transactions; International Sales

Suggested Citation

Coyle, John F., The Role of The CISG in U.S. Contract Practice: An Empirical Study (March 28, 2016). 38 University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 195 (2016); UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2755743. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2755743

John F. Coyle (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-843-9634 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.unc.edu/faculty/directory/coylejohnf/

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