Incoterms® Rules

Incoterms® Rules history

To bring economic prosperity to a post-World War I era, a group of industrialists, financiers and traders saw the opportunity to create an industry standard that would become known as the Incoterms® rules.

What are Incoterms® rules? 

First published by ICC in 1936, Incoterms® rules provide internationally accepted definitions and rules of interpretation for most common commercial terms used in contracts for the sale of goods. 

Developed and maintained by experts and practitioners Incoterms® have become the standard in international business rules setting, recognized by UNCITRAL as the global standard for the interpretation of the most common terms in foreign trade. 

How did Incoterms® Rules evolve? 

  • 1923: ICC’s first sounding of commercial trade terms 

After ICC’s creation in 1919, one of its first initiatives was to facilitate international trade. ICC set out to understand the commercial trade terms used by merchants through a study of six commonly used terms in 13 countries. The findings were published in 1923, highlighting disparities in interpretation. 

  • 1928: Clarity improved 

To examine the discrepancies, a second study was carried out but with an expanded of trade terms used in more than 30 countries. 

  • 1936: Global guidelines for traders 

First version of the Incoterms® rules was published and included the terms FAS, FOB, C&F, CIF, Ex Ship and Ex Quay. 

  • 1953: Rise of transportation by rail 

Due to World War II, supplementary revisions of the Incoterms® rules did not resume until 1953, which debuted three new trade terms for non-maritime transport : DCP (Delivered Costs Paid), FOR (Free on Rail) and FOT (Free on Truck). 

  • 1967: Misinterpretations corrected 

A third revision was launched, which dealt with misinterpretations of the previous version. Two trade terms were added to address delivery at frontier (DAF) and delivery at destination (DDP). 

  • 1974: Advances in air travel 

Another version issued due to increased use of air transportation which included the new term FOB Airport (Free on Board Airport) aimed to address confusion around the term FOB (Free on Board) by signifying the exact “vessel” used. 

  • 1980: Proliferation of container traffic 

The expansion of carriage of goods in containers and new documentation processes called for another revision, which introduced the trade term FRC (Free Carrier…Named at Point), referring to goods not actually received by the ship’s side but at a reception point on shore, such as a container yard. 

  • 1990: A complete revision 

Issued a fifth revision which simplified the Free Carrier term by deleting rules for specific modes of transport., instead using the general term FCA (Free Carrier…at Named Point). Other revisions accounted for increased use of electronic messages. 

  • 2000: Amended customs clearance obligations 

The “License, Authorisations and Formalities” section of FAS and DEQ Incoterms® rules were modified to comply with the way most customs authorities address the issues of exporter and importer of record. 

  • 2010: Reflections on the contemporary trade landscape 

Incoterms® 2010 consolidated the D-family of rules, removing DAF (Delivered at Frontier), DES (Delivered Ex Ship), DEQ (Delivered Ex Quay) and DDU (Delivered Duty Unpaid) and adding DAT (Delivered at Terminal) and DAP (Delivered at Place). Other modifications included an increased obligation for buyer and seller to cooperate on information sharing and changes to accommodate “string sales.” 

Additional information about the main features of Incoterms® 2010 ca be accessed HERE

  • 2020: Revision 

To keep pace with the ever-evolving global trade landscape, the latest update to the trade terms was launched in September 2019.   

Beware of untrustworthy sources 

There is a significant amount of misleading information concerning the Incoterms rules on the Internet and users should be aware of the existence of incomplete, inaccurate, and unofficial information.  

Unless sourced directly from ICC or ICC regional offices (known as ICC national committees), Incoterms® materials should not be trusted, as they may result in contractual mistakes and ensuing disputes.