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United Nations: Treaty on Maritime Goods Transportation

(Sept. 25, 2009) A United Nations treaty on the transportation of goods by sea, adopted by the General Assembly in December 2009, was signed on September 23, 2009, in Rotterdam. (G.A. Res., U.N. Doc. A/RES/63/122 (Feb. 2, 2009), with Convention text as annex, Rotterdam Rules website,
(last visited Sept. 23, 2009).) The U.N. Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea will also be known as the “Rotterdam Rules,” according to Michele Montas, a U.N. spokesperson. (UN Treaty on Maritime Goods Transportation Set to Be Signed in Rotterdam, UN NEWS CENTRE, Sept. 22, 2009, available at

The Convention establishes rules for the international, maritime carriage of containers and describes the rights and obligations of all parties involved in such shipping. It is designed to update and replace three older treaties: the Hague Rules, the Hague-Visby Rules, and the Hamburg Rules. New provisions cover electronic records related to the transport of goods by sea and rules for when commercial cargo is transported by a combination of land and sea methods. (Id.; Rotterdam Rules Signature Ceremony, Rotterdam Rules website, (last visited Sept. 23, 2009).)

Several large trading nations did not sign the new Convention on opening day. Canada announced on September 15, 2009, that it felt further consultations were needed, particularly on matters related to domestic shipping of goods. Australia, Chile, Finland, Germany, and the United Kingdom also planned not to sign on the 23rd. (The Rotterdam Rules, TETLEY'S MARITIME & ADMIRALTY LAW, (last visited Sept. 22, 2009).) Fifteen nations did sign on the first day, including the United States. (Wide Support by States at Signing Ceremony in Rotterdam, TRANSPORTWEEKLY, Sept. 23, 2009, available at

U.N. statistics indicate that 80 percent of world trade goes by sea; eight billion tons of goods were shipped in 2007. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)