Developments in PIL Scholarship

Born and Kalelioglu on Choice-of-Law Agreements in International Contracts

Gary Born (Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP) and Cem Kalelioglu (Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP) contributed an article on choice-of-law agreements in international contracts to Volume 50, Number 1, of the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law.

Choice-of-law agreements are widely used in international business transactions, with a substantial majority of all cross-border commercial and investment contracts containing a choice-of-law provision. Virtually all legal systems, and many treaties and other international legal instruments, recognize the presumptive validity of such agreements. Nonetheless, there are significant variations in the treatment of international choice-of-law provisions, including with respect to issues of validity, enforceability, and interpretation, which can lead to a degree of unpredictability in the application of such provisions. This uncertainty undermines the basic purposes of choice-of-law agreements and private international law more generally.

This Article examines the treatment of international choice-of-law agreements under both national and international law. In particular, the Article considers the rules governing the validity and enforceability of such agreements, the exceptions to their presumptive validity and enforceability, and the interpretation of international choice-of-law provisions.

The Article argues that the basic rule of presumptive validity of choice-of-law provisions in international commercial and investment contracts now has the status of a general principle of law and is therefore binding on states as a matter of international law and, in any event, should be adopted as a matter of national policy. This Article also argues that, although there are substantial similarities in the treatment of exceptions to the validity of international choice-of-law provisions in different national and other legal systems, important differences persist. These differences undermine the purposes of such agreements, and thereby impede international trade and investment. The Article examines these differences and proposes heightened uniformity in the rules governing the recognition of international choice-of-law agreements in commercial and investment contracts. Among other things, choice-of-law agreements (i) should not be subject to any “reasonable relationship” requirement, (ii) should be presumptively valid where a non- national legal system is selected and (iii) should be unenforceable on public policy grounds only in exceptional circumstances.

The Article also contends that similar differences exist with respect to the interpretation of international choice-of-law agreements in different legal systems, and that these differences frustrate the intentions of commercial parties. The Article proposes rules of interpretation of international choice-of-law provisions, including presumptions that choice-of-law agreements select only the “local law,” not the “whole law,” of a jurisdiction and that choice-of-law provisions be interpreted liberally, to include most issues of procedure and remedy, as well as non-contractual issues. These uniform rules of interpretation would better serve the objectives of commercial parties and purposes of private international law regimes and the international legal system than does existing treatment of international choice-of-law provisions.

The article is freely accessible here.