Legal texts on electronic transactions and signatures
Program in a Nutshell
- Capacity Building and Development
- Building Skills and Training
- Policy Dialogue
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The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) is the core legal body of the United Nations system in the field of international trade law. UNCITRAL’s core business is the modernization and harmonization of rules on international business.
Trade means faster growth, higher living standards, and new opportunities through commerce. To increase these opportunities worldwide, UNCITRAL is formulating modern, fair, and harmonized rules on commercial transactions.These include: conventions, model laws and rules which are acceptable worldwide; legal and legislative guides and recommendations of acknowledged practical value. Moreover, UNCITRAL provides updated information on case law and enactments of uniform commercial law and offers technical assistance in law reform projects, for instance by organising regional and national seminars on uniform commercial law.
The promotion of wider participation in UNCITRAL treaties and model laws is a core component of the mandate of UNCITRAL.
Technical activities offered by UNCITRAL may support both legal review and drafting and capacity-building for legal implementation. In detail, they include:
- organising briefing missions and seminars and participating in conferences to familiarize participants with UNCITRAL texts and their use;
- undertaking law reform assessments to assist governments, legislative bodies and other authorities in developing and other countries to review existing legislation and assess their needs for law reform in the commercial field;
- assisting with the drafting of national legislation to implement UNCITRAL texts;
- assisting international development agencies to use UNCITRAL texts in their law reform activities and projects;
- providing advice and assistance to international and other organizations, bar associations, organizations of attorneys, chambers of commerce and arbitration centres, on the use of UNCITRAL texts; and
- organizing group training activities to facilitate the implementation and interpretation of modern commercial legislation based on UNCITRAL texts by judiciaries and legal practitioners.
- Two online lectures on “Legal Aspects of Electronic Commerce in International Trade” are available in the Audiovisual Library of International Law.
- UNCITRAL is a partner of the UNCTAD TrainForTrade e-learning course on Digital Identity for Trade and Development
UNCITRAL texts in the field of electronic commerce have been particularly successful and provided the basis for national legislation in over 100 States.
- The most widely enacted legislative text is the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce (MLEC, 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 (MLES, 2001) provides additional rules on the use of electronic signatures and on rights and obligations of the concerned parties (signatory; service provider; relying party).
- The United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts (ECC, 2005) builds on the MLEC, which updates and complements, to offer the first treaty that provides legal certainty for electronic contracting in international trade. In several jurisdictions the ECC has been incorporated in national law but has not yet been formally adopted as a treaty. More information on the ECC is available at
- Most recently, the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR, 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.
- Besides legislative texts, the UNCITRAL secretariat has prepared guidance documents on certain aspects of electronic transactions law. They are the Notes on the main issues of cloud computing contracts (2019), and the publication Promoting confidence in electronic commerce: legal issues on international use of electronic authentication and signature methods (2007).
Adoption of UNCITRAL texts on electronic commerce
UNCITRAL texts on electronic commerce have been adopted in more than 100 States. The detailed status of the adoption of each text is available on the UNCITRAL website.
Significant work in cooperation with other organizations has also been conducted in the field of legal aspects of single windows and paperless trade facilitation. One major outcome of that joint work was the adoption of the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, a UN/ESCAP treaty.
UNCITRAL and Bahrain have worked together to create a modern, efficient and effective legal environment supporting the latest developments of the digital economy.
The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) is an investment promotion agency with overall responsibility for attracting investment into the Kingdom of Bahrain and supporting initiatives that enhance the investment climate. The EDB works to ensure that Bahrain’s investment climate is attractive, including with respect to its legal aspects.
The EDB and UNCITRAL have a long and significant record of cooperation on drafting laws enabling digital trade. The Electronic Transactions Law, which has been first adopted in 2002 based on the MLEC, is an early example of this fruitful joint work.
Another significant result of the cooperation between Bahrain and UNCITRAL is the enactment of the MLETR, which was done with the adoption of the Electronic Transferable Records Law (Law No. 55/2018). Bahrain was the first jurisdiction in the world that enacted the MLETR, which is now widely seen as a key enabler of post-COVID 19 economic recovery.
The Electronic Transferable Records Law has been prepared in support of the “Cloud First” policy. That same effort led to Bahrain’s accession to the ECC, the first Arab State to do so.
The UNCITRAL Secretariat and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives (MCIC) of Kiribati have been working to define scope and content of an electronic transactions bill based on UNCITRAL texts, which already provide the template for all existing laws on electronic transactions adopted in the Pacific.
The work is carried out based on the policy insight contained in the Kiribati Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessment. Given the peculiar geographic and social features of the country, the Assessment highlights that broad use of ICT is considered “a key enabler of more equitable growth and improved access to essential social services: education, health, disaster management, and national security”.
At the operational level, the Enhanced Integrated Framework funded and co-organised with UNCITRAL and MCIC a workshop to sensitize stakeholders on the electronic transactions bill and collect their input held in Tarawa on 19-20 December 2019.
As a first result, Kiribati became a party to the ECC on 21 April 2020. Moreover, a bill incorporating the MLEC, the substantive provisions of the ECC and the MLETR has been adopted by the Maneaba ni Maungatabu (the Parliament of Kiribati) in August 2021.
The resulting law will significantly contribute to pursuing sustainable and diversified economic development. Moreover, the law will help the diffusion of information and communication technologies that are key to addressing in an innovative manner Kiribati’s special vulnerability due to factors such as climate change and rise in sea level.
Additional work is foreseen to legally enable paperless trade facilitation, in cooperation with UN/ESCAP.
To sum up, UNCITRAL and a number of other actors are carrying out a coordinated and coherent effort to support Kiribati’s inclusion in the digital economy.
Reports on UNCITRAL technical assistance activities are made available yearly to the Commission and are available on the UNCITRAL website. A dedicated section lists the main activities undertaken in the area of e-commerce.
- The ICC Digital Standards Initiative is a joint venture between ICC, ADB and the Government of Singapore that aims at promoting trade digitisation, including by promoting broader adoption and implementation of the MLETR.
- A discussion of the relevance of UNCITRAL texts for legally enabling electronic transactions may be found in the WEF White Paper Making Deals in Cyberspace: What’s the Problem?, 2018.
- The EIF – UN/ESCAP – UNCITRAL Readiness Assessment Guide for Cross-Border Paperless Trade, aims at facilitating self-assessments of legal and technical readiness on cross-border paperless trade.
- The UN NExT – UN/ESCAP – UN ECE Electronic Single Window Legal Issues: A Capacity-Building Guide has been drafted with input from UNCITRAL.