Electronic Commerce

Information and communications technology and the emergence of new technologies continue to create new opportunities for trade, as well as new items of trade.

UNCITRAL has prepared a suite of legislative texts to enable and facilitate the use of electronic means to engage in commercial activities, which have been adopted in over 100 States. The most widely enacted text is the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce (1996), which establishes rules for the equal treatment of electronic and paper-based information, as well as the legal recognition of electronic transactions and processes, based on the fundamental principles of non-discrimination against the use of electronic means, functional equivalence and technology neutrality. The UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Signatures (2001) provides additional rules on the use of electronic signatures.

The United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts (New York, 2005) builds on pre-existing UNCITRAL texts to offer the first treaty that provides legal certainty for electronic contracting in international trade. The UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (2017) applies the same principles to enable and facilitate the use in electronic form of transferable documents and instruments, such as bills of lading, bills of exchange, cheques, promissory notes and warehouse receipts.

In 2019, UNCITRAL approved the publication of Notes on the Main Issues of Cloud Computing Contracts, and in 2022 adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law on the Use and Cross-border Recognition of Identity Management and Trust Services, which provides the first globally-agreed uniform legal framework to identify physical and legal persons online, as well as to provide assurances as to the quality of data in electronic form, including across borders.

In keeping with its central and coordinating role within the United Nations system in addressing legal issues related to the digital economy, UNCITRAL continues its efforts to legally enable emerging technologies and their trade applications, including in connection with other areas of work such as dispute resolution, security interests, insolvency and the international transport of goods. In 2022, UNCITRAL approved the publication of a taxonomy of legal issues related to the digital economy, which records exploratory work by the UNCITRAL secretariat on the topics of artificial intelligence, data, online platforms, digital assets, and decentralized systems, and which is intended to guide proposals for future legislative work on electronic commerce (digital trade) and in other areas of work.

Significant work in cooperation with other organizations has also been conducted in the field of legal aspects of single windows and paperless trade facilitation. The results of joint work with United Nations ESCAP in that field include the online Readiness Assessment Guide for Cross-Border Paperless Trade.;