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What's New? > Tighter control needed on overseas contracts

Tighter control needed on overseas contracts

Published: 9th March 2012

Business must take care when entering agreements with overseas organisations to avoid problems if disputes arise.

A High Court judge in London has been hearing a case that involved Brazilian companies who were in dispute over a contract covering the construction of one of the world's largest hydro electric facilities. The contract was for construction work in Brazil, it was governed by Brazilian law and was subject to the jurisdiction of the Brazilian courts.

But the dispute ended up in the English courts because parts of the original agreement were not precise enough, and the message to UK businesses trading overseas is to make sure they don't fall foul of badly drafted contracts, particularly in emerging markets. 

The contract in the Brazilian case said that any dispute had to be mediated and, if that failed, the dispute must be referred to arbitration in London.  When the validity of the arbitration clause was challenged, the issue turned into a dispute as to whether the English courts or the Brazilian courts has jurisdiction to rule on the validity of the clause.
The judge ruled that the parties were obliged to arbitrate their dispute in London, and that English law applied to the arbitration.

The case has been highlighted as a clear lesson for anyone who has dealings with foreign companies.  Whenever there is any foreign element, for example export of goods or foreign nationals as clients, the contract or terms of business must be clear about which country's law will apply to the contract and which courts have jurisdiction.  Any other details must then be consistent with the basic terms concerning the applicable law and jurisdiction.

Explained commercial law expert Simon Wilson of Ward Gethin solicitors: "The devil is in the detail.  It is absolutely essential that the contract states the applicable law, because you need to be certain as to the effect of the terms - both at the time the contract is being drawn up and later if there is a disagreement. Otherwise you may find yourself in a very difficult position where your only option is expensive and difficult action involving foreign courts and procedures.

"If the contract says nothing, quite possibly the laws of another country might apply. And of course those laws might be quite different from ours.  The situation is different for consumer contracts within the EU because consumers are protected by EU regulations."

If you require further information on the above issue or any other commercial matter, please contact a member of our Company Commercial team on 01553 660033.

This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek our specific advice.