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Incoterms explained: Definition and rules

What are Incoterms?

Incoterms can be defined as a set of rules which would feature the responsibilities of sellers and buyers in the procedure of delivering of goods entirely based on sales contracts. Shippers around the world use standard trade definitions (called Incoterms) to point out who’s responsible for the shipping, insurance, and tariffs on an item. The term incoterms are commonly used in international contracts and are protected by International Chamber of Commerce. Incoterms major output to reduce misunderstandings among traders and thereby minimize trade disputes and litigation. Familiarize yourself with Incoterms so you can choose terms that will enable you to provide excellent customer service and clearly define who is responsible for which charges.

What are the Current Incoterms?

By 2010, the two major segments of Incoterms were updated and organized by the modes of transport. Since incoterms are used in international as well as in domestic contracts for the first time, the new groups aimed to simplify the procedure of drafting contracts and more clearly stipulate the obligations of buyers and sellers:

Group 1. Incoterms that apply to any mode of transport are:

Group 2. Incoterms that apply to sea and inland waterway transport only:

eCommerce Incoterms

Mostly all B2B eCommerce agreements use EXW, CPT, or CIF; and on the other hand, business-to- consumer (B2C) transactions will use CPT or CIF (and sometimes DDP). Except for DDP in which the Incoterms are mentioned above require the buyer to pay all tariffs and taxes upon arrival of the commodity. To mainstream the meaning of all these terms, the client should take the time to understand their usage.

Incoterms Considerations

When the exported goods arrive at the destination, the importing country requires all applicable tariffs (import taxes levied by the destination country) and local taxes, including value-added tax (VAT), be paid by the importer. There are many companies require the buyer to pay these tariffs and taxes.

Buyers typically just want to figure out the final price of the product after including shipping and taxes. The final price is put after including taxes (known as the “landed cost”) before they agree to buy, but you might not be able to provide it—tariffs and taxes vary widely throughout the world, so determining those rates before the product is shipped can be difficult. Therefore, the client needs to stay clear about their policy on tariffs—specifically, who pays and when payment will be due.

The shipping companies you select often act as freight forwarders, helping you complete shipping documents, helping you estimate duties and taxes, pre-paying them for you, and then invoicing you. If you use the U.S. Postal Service for lighter weight shipments, its local partner in the buyer’s country will collect duties and taxes.

History of Incoterms,

A short history of Incoterms

FOB Incoterm was the first Incoterm to be ever created. And even though the origin traces back over more than two centuries, Incoterms, as they are now, weren’t created until 1936 by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Back then the international transportation community has been through multiple changes. Therefore, to adapt, there have been new and improved editions of the Incoterms like the ones introduced in 1953, 1967, and 1976.

If we talk about the past five decades, revisions have been continuously implemented at the turn- point of every decade and they also manage to put out in effect for the entire decade, such as Incoterms 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010.

The importance and function of incoterms that how they facilitate world trade cannot be denied or neglected. Initially, when Incoterms were first introduced, they were simply applied to 13 countries. Although after Eight revisions later, they are now widely used in over 140 countries and can be found in 31 different languages.

Why were the Incoterms 2000 revised?

Incoterms 2010 is the updated version of Incoterms. Incoterms 2010 have been developed because of an extensive review of current shipping practices and trends to keep up with the rapid expansion of world trade. The key drivers for this update include a need for improved cargo security, changes to the Uniform Commercial Code in 2004 that resulted in a deletion of U.S. shipment and delivery terms, and new trends in global transportation.

Can I still use the Incoterms 2000?

According to the International Chamber of Commerce, all contracts made under Incoterms 2000 remain valid even after 2011. Also, although the ICC recommends using Incoterms 2010 from January 2011 onward, parties to a sales contract can agree to use any version of Incoterms after 2011. It is important, however, to specify the chosen version of Incoterms being used (i.e. Incoterms 2010, Incoterms 2000, or any earlier version).

Why we need Incoterms?

Incoterms are standardized terms used in international trade to clearly define the seller’s and buyer’s obligations as part of a contract mainly to avoid dispute in the long run. Although there are many forms of Incoterms exist, anyhow sellers and buyers often underestimate the value of Incoterms and their impact upon international trade. Following are some of the primary ways Incoterms are fundamental to international shipping and trade and how it cures the procedure.

Incoterms: Risk Mitigation.

In a contract, it is understood and should be sufficient to ensure all parties maintain their obligations in international trade. However, there must have been some language barriers and connotations of terms in one location may not be reflective or understood in another.

The use of Incoterms is best defined as its capacity to eliminate inconsistencies in language by giving all parties the same definition of specific terms within a trade agreement. As it will result in the risk of problems during shipment is reduced as more or less all parties have clearly understood their responsibilities in performing trade under the given contract.

Failure to Use Incoterms Leads to Problems.

Parties in international shipping need to understand how Incoterms vary. Failure to understand the correct definition of each Incoterm used will eventually lead to major problems and disruption throughout the subsequent supply chain. Furthermore, misusing incoterms may also impact the payment of goods, delivery schedules, increased costs, poor inventory control, and as well as negative customer interactions. From distribution centres to shipping recipients, improper or missing Incoterms will also disrupt the flow of goods and damages a given company’s reputation.

However, it should be noted that Incoterms do not govern the ownership of merchandise; they mainly focus on shipping practices only. Therefore, the ownership of goods cannot be defined with the help of Incoterms, and shippers should be aware of illegitimate business practices, as he/she may use Incoterms in a similar capacity.

Incoterms Affect Monetary Gain and Competitive Advantage.

Incoterms will also ensure that the involved parties can maintain a competitive advantage in the international supply chain. As if a given shipper’s governing authority were to make adjustments to local terminology, this could directly impact the competitive advantage of companies. Although one company may benefit from the local terminology introduced from a secular point of view the other company endures limitations on capacity and shipping regulations in the affected country. Then it will result in the incidence of bribery and unfair business practices have been reduced every time Incoterms are used in international trade. Incoterms are considered very essential to avoid potential penalties and fines in the practice of global trading.

Incoterms Change and Vary in Responsibility.

Incoterms have to be updated every 10 years to make sure that they reflect changes in the global supply chain to avoid further mishap. Typically, the responsibility of defining Incoterms is applied to the buyer. However, unlike the first part, the responsibility of using Incoterms will shift from buyer to seller and it would depend upon the exact nature and type of transport employed. The rules are in placed forth by International Business Training and should be consistently, frequently reviewed to ensure clarity and accuracy in all international transactions. As a result, sellers and shippers can maintain compliance with changing laws in international trade.

Incoterms also play a vital and the strongest role in ensuring all international trades are in place and followed by a standardized, thorough manner. Without Incoterms, buyers and sellers may have to suffer from constant changes in language and difficulties in shipping practices. Fortunately, Incoterms also streamline obligations and help shippers maintain standard practices throughout the process.

Seller versus Buyer – Risk Transfer

It is vital for the Seller / Exporter to not misunderstand the true application and usage of Incoterms 2010. The incoterms 2010 refers to the sales contract and not to the transport contract, although to make a sale of goods, the client may notice some form in correlations with aspects and contracts that will be finalized later, such as transport, insurance, financing, etc.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that Incoterms shall not be considered “laws” as the legal effect lies in the will of both parties to opt for them in their commercial transactions by making explicit mention in the written form:

In short, Incoterms 2010:

  • are optional rules, not laws;
  • do not affect the transport contract, as they relate to the sales contract;
  • do not concern the property transfer or any other sales right;
  • do not govern all of the obligations undertaken by the parties of a sales contract, as they are confined to the delivery of the goods;
  • do not concern the breach of the contract, with the relevant consequences for the party in breach.

ICC, i.e. the International Chamber of Commerce, grouped the obligations of the Seller and the Buyer in 10 points, marked by the “A”, for the Seller, and by the letter “B”, for the Buyer, so that each point (title) related with the Seller, under the letter “A”matches with the position of the Buyer, under the letter “B”.

Obligations of the parties under Incoterms 2010

Seller’s obligations Buyer’s obligations
Supply of the goods in conformity with the contract Payment of the price.
License, authorization and formalities License, authorization and formalities
Transport contract and insurance Transport contract and insurance
Delivery Take-over
Risk transfer Risk transfer
Breakdown of fees Breakdown of fees
Notice to the buyer Notice to the buyer
Proof of delivery, transport document or any equivalent electronic message Proof of delivery, transport document or any equivalent electronic message
Checking, Packing, marking Inspection of the goods

Therefore, the obligations governed by the Incoterms 2010 are the following:

  • the Seller shall make the goods available for the Buyer, or his carrier, for transportation and delivery to the agreed destination.
  • the breakdown of the risks between Seller and Buyer, as for the transportation of goods from the place of origin to the final destination.
  • the obligation to clear customs in export and import.
  • the obligation by the Buyer to take over the goods

Although Incoterms deal with a large number of specific obligations, they do not govern the following aspects:

  • transfer of property or any other sales right;
  • breach of the contract, with the relevant consequences for the party in the breach;
  • liabilities, financial conditions in connection with the execution of the main legal transaction;

Incoterms 2010 do not belong to “international contracts”. Instead, they only refer to the sales contract signed the Seller and the Buyer.