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疫情背景下国际商事合同中的不可抗力条款

2020-02-19 14:5391713

新型冠状病毒疫情被确认为国际突发公共卫生事件(以下简称PHEIC)后,有些国家相继采取了一系列的管控措施防范疫情的蔓延,如越南暂缓货物清关,澳大利亚、菲律宾对中国船舶加强停靠限制,印尼、约旦暂停进口部分中国商品。显而易见,疫情的发展冲击了国际商业活动,也严重影响了广大进出口企业的利益。

作者:丁婷婷/卢志敏

来源:康桥律师事务所(ID:kangqiaolawfirm)


新型冠状病毒疫情被确认为国际突发公共卫生事件(以下简称PHEIC)后,有些国家相继采取了一系列的管控措施防范疫情的蔓延,如越南暂缓货物清关,澳大利亚、菲律宾对中国船舶加强停靠限制,印尼、约旦暂停进口部分中国商品。显而易见,疫情的发展冲击了国际商业活动,也严重影响了广大进出口企业的利益。


Since WHO announced the novel coronavirus outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), some countries have adopted a series of measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic. Vietnam has suspended customs clearance, Australia and Philippines have restricted Vessels coming from China from berthing, Indonesia and Jordan have suspended imports of Chinese products as well. Obviously, the coronavirus impacted international businesses and seriously affected the import and export enterprises.


一、中国国际贸易促进委员会为减少广大企业的损失,依据其章程规定出具不可抗力证明,但不可抗力这一概念并非各个国家的通用概念,在不同法系下对其认定也有所不同,不可一概而论,而且将贸促会的不可抗力证明统一作为商事领域的不可抗力事实性证明,也是不确切的。那么国际商事合同中的不可抗力条款的形式和作用是怎样的呢?


I. China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) has issued certificates of force majeure in accordance with its articles of association to reduce the losses of enterprises. However, force majeure is not a common concept in every country, and its recognition differs in various judicial systems. It is also improper to use the force majeure certificate from CCPIT as the uniform factual proof of force majeure in the commercial field. So what is the form and function of force majeure clauses in international commercial contracts?


(一)大陆法下,不可抗力主要表现为法条中的明示条款,如《法国民法典》第 1147 条、第1148条之规定,“凡债务人不能证明其不履行债务系由于不能归究于其的外来原因时”、“如债务人因不可抗力或不测事变,不能履行其承担的给付或作为之债务,或者违约进行对其禁止之事项,不引起任何损害赔偿责任。”《德国民法典》第206条之规定,“在时效期间的最后6个月内权利人因不可抗力无法实施权利的,则该请求权时效中止”。以上均详细规定了不可抗力或者类似不可抗力的内容,即形成了不可抗力法定的地位。那么,当国际商事合同条款中没有约定不可抗力,但合同的适用法规定了不可抗力的法定地位时,发生了不能预见、不能避免并不能克服的客观情况, 使得合同目的不能实现,是可以根据相关法条之规定援引不可抗力的内容,主张免除部分或者全部责任的,法院或者仲裁庭也可依情况衡量。


1. Under civil law, force majeure is manifested in explicit provisions of statutes. For example, Articles 1147 and 1148 of the French Civil Code stipulates “when the debtor does not prove that the non-performance comes from an external cause which may not be ascribed to him”, “no claim for damages arises where a debtor was prevented from transferring or from doing that to which he was bound, or did what was forbidden to him, by reason of force majeure or of a fortuitous event.” Article 206 of the German Civil Code provides that “limitation is suspended for as long as, within the last six months of the limitation period, the obligee is prevented by force majeure from prosecuting his rights.” The legal status of force majeure is formed by the statutes in civil law judicial systems. Therefore, when force majeure is not in the terms of the international commercial contract, but the applicable law of the contract contains the legal status of force majeure, a party may invoke force majeure to exempt himself from part or all of the responsibilities if unforeseeable, unavoidable and insurmountable objective circumstances occurs. The court or the arbitral tribunal may also weigh the circumstances in their discretion.


我国《合同法》第一百一十七条规定了“不可抗力指的是不能预见、不能避免且不能克服的客观情况”,该条规定“因不可抗力不能履行合同的,根据不可抗力的影响,部分或者全部免除责任”,《合同法》第九十四条第一项 也赋予了合同当事人因不可抗力导致合同目的不能实现时的法定解除合同的权利。但在依该法条行使解除权时,法院或仲裁庭要综合考量不可抗力对合同的影响程度,也就是说,只有在不可抗力影响到合同目的实现时,合同当事人才可行使法定解除权,反言之,如果不可抗力未影响到合同目的的实现,则合同当事人并不享有此权利。


Contract Law of PRC defines force majeure as “any objective circumstance which is unforeseeable, unavoidable and insurmountable”, and provides that “a party who was unable to perform a contract due to force majeure is exempted from liability in part or in whole in light of the impact of the event of force majeure”. It also grants a party to “ terminate a contract if force majeure frustrated the purpose of the contract”. However, when a party files to terminate the contract due to force majeure, the court or the arbitration tribunal shall comprehensively consider the extent of the impact of force majeure on the contract: only when the force majeure affects the purpose of the contract, can the party choose to terminate. Otherwise, the parties to the contract do not enjoy the right to terminate.


何为合同目的不能实现?这并非一个点的问题,而是要综合考量整个面,同时还要兼顾“公平原则”。“非典”时期,最高人民法院曾发布《关于在防治传染性非典型肺炎期间依法做好人民法院相关审判、执行工作的通知》(现已失效),可以参考其中关于“因’非典’疫情原因,按原合同履行对一方当事人的权益有重大影响的合同纠纷案件,可以根据具体情况,适用公平原则处理,因政府及有关部门为防治“非典”疫情而采取行政措施直接导致合同不能履行,或者由于“非典”疫情的影响致使合同当事人根本不能履行而引起的纠纷,按照《中华人民共和国合同法》第一百一十七条和第一百一十八条的规定妥善处理。”之规定,这表明法院在“因不可抗力导致合同目的不能实现而行使合同解除权”这个问题上是持有谨慎态度的,此观点可以参考湖北省高院审理的美国东江旅游集团公司与长江轮船海外旅游总公司租赁合同纠纷上诉案,第(2007)鄂民四终字第47号民事判决书之内容对何为合同目的不能实现以及依公平原则分担损失都有较细致的叙述。


How come the purpose of the contract is frustrated? The answer is not a single point, but a comprehensive plane with the “principle of fairness” taken into account. Notice on Trial and Enforcement by the People’s Court During SARS (Repealed) promulgated by the Supreme People’s Court of PRC provided that “Contractual disputes where performance in accordance with the original contract will have a significant impact on the rights and interests of one party due to SARS can be resolved on the basis of fairness according to the specific circumstances. If a contract cannot be performed because of administrative measures taken by the government and relevant departments to prevent SARS, or the contracting party cannot perform the contract due to SARS, the disputes arising therefrom shall be properly resolved in accordance with Articles 117 and 118 of Contract Law of the PRC”, showing that Chinese court is cautious on “termination of contract because of force majeure”. This point of view is supported by the judgment of J.PI Travel USA Inc. v. Changjiang Overseas Cruise Travel Co., Ltd., which contains detailed description of how the contract purpose is frustrated and how to attribute the damages in the sprit of fairness.


(二)英美法下,遵守的是“严格合同义务”原则,比如1647年“帕拉丁诉简”(Paradine v. Jane)案判决即使因为意外事件使得合同目的不能实现,合同不得以履行,也不能免除当事人的责任,加之没有成文法明确规定的不可抗力内容,此功能一般由合同约定的不可抗力条款与合同目的受阻原则来实现,所以形成了不可抗力按契约约定的地位,那么当国际商事合同条款中没有约定不可抗力,合同的适用法是英美法时,便很难以不可抗力作为免除责任的抗辩理由。王利明的《违约责任论》中提到:“美国学者Berman指出,在交易中无所谓不可预见之事(Nothing is unforeseeable),任何事故都是可由当事人事先约定的,就免责问题而言,应当由当事人订立合同来解决。如果合同未作规定,则应当由当事人负责。因此,法律规定免责条款都是毫无意义的”。虽然日后因为国际贸易的发展由“泰勒诉考德威尔”开始,慢慢形成了现在的合同目的受阻原则,但这与大陆法下的制度上的不可抗力还是不同的,这是基于“严格合同义务”之下的对合同双方公平的考量。


2. Under common law, contract obligations shall be strictly complied with. For example, “Paradise v. Jane” (1647) ruled that when a party by his own contract creates a duty upon himself is bound to make it good notwithstanding any accident that he could have provided against in the contract. In addition, there is no force majeure in the statutory laws. Non-performance of contract obligations is justified only if there is express force majeure terms in the covenant, and the purpose of the contract is frustrated. Therefore, force majeure is formed according to the contract. When there is no agreement on force majeure in the terms of international commercial contracts and the applicable law of the contract is common law, it is very difficult to invoke force majeure as a defense for liability exemption. Wang Mingli quoted the American scholar Berman in his book On Liability for Breach of Contract that “nothing is unforeseeable, any accident can be agreed by the parties in advance. As far as the issue of exemption is concerned, the parties should conclude a contract to solve it. If there is no such stipulation in the contract, the parties shall be responsible. Therefore, it is meaningless for the law to stipulate the exemption clause.” Although “Taylor v. Caldwell” promotes the development of international trade, and gradually formed the current principle of frustration of contract purpose, which is based on the consideration of the fairness of both parties under the “strict compliance rule”, it is different from force majeure under the civil law.


美国《合同法重述》第二版,规定了合同目的受阻(Frustration  of  Purposes)原则,在请求人没有过失的前提下,意外事件实质性地阻碍了合同的主要目的实现,那么可以导致合同的解除。不可抗力与合同的受阻还是有一定差别的,不可抗力必须因客观性导致不能履行,而合同目的受阻包括因主观性导致发现合同不能履行,即并非绝对不能履行而是继续履行会偏离合同订立的目的,且在英美法判例下,法官对合同目的受阻的适用具有严格的要求,一般难以实现。


The second edition of Restatement of Contract Law of the United States stipulates the principle of “Frustration of Purposes”: when unexpected events arise which make a contract impossible to be performed, entitling the frustrated to terminate the contract. There are  differences between the force majeure and frustration  of  purposes. Force majeure must be caused by an objective event. However, frustration  of  purposes includes the discovery that the contract cannot be performed due to subjectivity, that is, the continuous performance will deviate from the purpose of the contract. Under case law, it is difficult to invoke frustration  of  purposes because there are strict requirements for the judge to apply this rule.


(三)没有约定适用法律的,应以冲突法的规范,根据“最密切联系原则” 确认适用的准据法。在没有明示排除的情况下,《联合国国际货物销售合同公约》(the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods,以下简称 CISG)不同缔约国的合同当事人之间(或营业地在缔约国或冲突规范指向适用某一缔约国法律)的货物买卖合同也可适用 CISG,该公约第 79 条规定了“障碍”(impediment)这一不可抗力违约免责条款,当然理论界也有观点认为这是情势变更原则。


3. If there is no agreement on the applicable law, the applicable law shall be determined by the “most closely related” principle. Without express exclusion, the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) can be applied for contractual parties from different countries or regions (or a party’s place of business or conflict rules direct the applicable laws to a contractual country). Article 79 of CISG provides “pediment” as force majeure for a party to exempt his contract liabilities. However, some scholars think “pediment” as a “change of circumstances”.


二、鉴于以上基础理论,建议在签订国际商事合同时,明确约定不可抗力条款,并约定合同适用的法律,不同情形下,具体合同约定的内容及注意事项如下:


II.  In view of the above basic theories, it is suggested that when signing an international commercial contract, the force majeure clause and the applicable laws of the contract should be clearly stipulated. Here are some take aways for companies in different situations.


(一)在适用中国法的情况下,虽然法律明确规定了不可抗力,但进出口企业援引不可抗力减免责任时还应注意以下方面。


1. If the contract applies Chinese laws, although it is clearly stipulates the force majeure in the statute, the import and export enterprises shall also pay attention to the following aspects when invoking force majeure as defense of reduce or exempt liability.


1.该不可抗力发生的时间。企业在不可抗力发生之前是否有迟延履行合同的行为,如果因为企业的迟延履行,导致合同的履行遇到不可抗力,那么迟延履行部分不能以不可抗力进行抗辩。


(1) The time of the force majeure. Pay attention to whether a party has delayed the performance before force majeure. If the non-performance delays contract to force majeure, then the delayed performance cannot be exempted by force majeure.


2.合同的不能履行与不可抗力之间有直接的因果关系。回到文章开头提出的问题,贸促会开出的不可抗力证明是对不可抗力发生的事实的证明,并不能以此作为减免责任的依据,企业需要进一步提供证据证明不可抗力的发生直接导致了合同的不能履行。


(2) Causation between the non-performance and the force majeure. Back to the question raised at the beginning of the article, the force majeure certificate issued by the CCPIT is the proof of the fact that the force majeure occurred, which can not be used directly as the basis for relief of liability. The default party needs to provide further evidence to prove that the occurrence of force majeure directly leads to the non-performance of the contract.


3.该不可抗力是否可以克服和避免。不同的地区,疫情发生的程度不同, 政府的限制也不同,如果可以克服和避免的行为,不能援引不可抗力进行抗辩, 比如利用网银交付预付款的行为。


(3) Unavoidability and insurmountability of the force majeure. Different regions, have different extent of the epidemic and different government restrictions.
If the circumstances can be avoided and surmounted, force majeure can not be invoked to defend non-performance, such as making advance payment by online banking.


4.应及时通知合同的相对方并采取合理措施避免了损失的扩大。


(4) The opposite party of the contract shall be informed in time and reasonable measures shall be taken to mitigate the loss.


5.应在合理期限内搜集保留并提供证据,包括证明疫情客观存在的证据, 如政府规范性文件、权威媒体报道等。


(5) Evidence should be collected and provided within a reasonable period of time, such as evidence proving the objective existence of the epidemic, government orders, media reports, etc.


(二)在适用英美法的情况下,因其“严格义务”的合同原则,进出口企业在签订和援引不可抗力条款时要注意以下方面。


2. If the contract applies common law, because of its “strict compliance” rule, import and export companies should pay attention to the following aspects when invoking force majeure:


1.对不可抗力的定义和表述要准确清晰。英美法属于判例法,没有成文法下规定的不可抗力,对不可抗力的用词表述也不同,为了避免引起歧义,应该准确清晰的表述其定义。


(1) The definition of force majeure should be accurate and clear. Common law is case law, there is no written statutes on force majeure, and the expression of force majeure is different. In order to avoid ambiguity, the definition of force majeure should be accurately and clearly stated.


2.在合同中要尽量详尽的罗列不可抗力事件,比如此次发生的疫情,应在合同中约定“瘟疫及与此类似之事件”,如果没有约定如上内容,则不得援引其为不可抗力。


(2). The force majeure events shall be listed as detailed as possible in the contract. For example, the coronavirus epidemic occurred this time conform to the “plague and similar events”, which should be stipulated in the contract. If there is no such agreement, it cannot not be used as force majeure.


3.不可抗力发生后应及时通知合同的相对方。此处的通知应该包括通知的时间及内容、通知的回复、如果不回复通知的法律后果等。


(3). Notify the other party in time after the occurrence of force majeure. The notice here should include the time and content of the notice, reply to the notice, and legal consequences if the notice is not replied.


4.约定在不可抗力发生后应提供不可抗力书面证明。此处包括应该在什么期限内提供该证明,证明的内容是什么,如果不能提供该证明的法律后果有哪些。


(4) Agree written proof of force majeure after the occurrence of force majeure, including the time limit within which the certificate should be provided, the content of the certificate, and the legal consequences if the certificate cannot be provided.


5.约定不可抗力发生后该如何处理。


(5) Agree on how to deal with the occurrence of force majeure.


6.约定不可抗力是否属于免责条款以及免除的责任包括哪些。


(6) Agree whether the force majeure can be used to exempt contract liabilities and what liabilities can be exempted.


7.可以约定替代履约条款。即不可抗力发生后,以哪些行为替代合同约定的义务,如果该可以替代履约条款生效,则不可抗力条款是否作废。


(7) Alternative performance clauses may be agreed. Parties may agree on alternative acts that replace the original obligations after the occurrence of the force majeure, and the validity of force majeure clause if the Alternative performance clause is effective.


8.约定不可抗力的举证内容、举证责任、举证期限等。


(8) Stipulate the content of proof, burden of proof and time limit of proof for force majeure.


(三)在适用英美法的情况下,如果没有约定不可抗力条款或者不可抗力条款不详尽无法援引或者因合同相对方的强势性不认可不可抗力条款时(比如行业协会的格式条款),应注意以下方面。


3. If the contract applies common law, and the parties do not agree on force majeure or the force majeure clause is not exhaustive and cannot be invoked, or the opposite party of the contract does not recognize the force majeure clause (such as the format clause of the industry association), the following aspects shall be noted.


1.发生不可抗力后应及时通知合同相对方。

2.积极寻求履约的替代方式。

3.不要轻易援引不可抗力内容主张解除合同。

4.尽量与合同相对方协调沟通。

5.签订补充条款。


(1) Notify the other party of the contract in time in case of force majeure.
(2) Actively seek alternative ways of performance.
(3) Do not hastily invoke force majeure and terminate the contract.
(4) Communicate with the opposite party.
(5) Sign supplementary contract.


(四)在适用 CISG 的情况下,进出口企业应注意以下方面。


4. If the contract applies CISG, then


1.不可抗力发生的时间。根据 CISG79 条之规定,该“障碍”应“没有理由预期他在订立合同时能考虑到或能避免或克服它或它的后果”。


(1). The time of the force majeure. According to Article 79 of CISG, “an impediment could not reasonably be expected to happen at the time of the conclusion of the contract or to have avoided or overcome it or its consequences.”


2.发生不可抗力后要及时通知合同相对方。并确保该通知在合理的期限内被合同相对方收到。


2. In case of force majeure, notify the other party in time. And ensure that the notice is received by the other party within a reasonable period of time.


3.援引因“第三方”所致,使合同无法履行时,“第三方”受严格的限制。该“第三方”并非字面意思上的所有第三方,必须是其“所雇用履行合同的全部或一部分规定的”,也并不是单纯指其上下游,比如根据 secretariat Commentary, 原料供应商不属于此处的“第三方”的范畴。


(3) If the non-performance is attributed to a “third party”, the definition of “third party” is strictly limited. It does not mean all the third parties literally. For example, the raw material supplier is not a “third party” here.


4.及时与合同相对方沟通,寻求替代解决办法,防止损失扩大。


(4) Communicate with the opposite party timely to find alternative solutions to mitigate the losses.


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