Trade & investment

International business hails US breakthrough on air freight liability

  • 14 October 1998

International business today hailed as a breakthrough for world air transport the United States Senate's ratification last week of an international treaty that allows modern electronic messaging to be used to speed air cargoes.

Jeffrey Shane, Chairman of the Air Transport Commission of the International Chamber of Commerce, said: “Together with the earlier ratifications of many other countries, this important vote will bring into being for much of the world an air cargo liability regime that accommodates rather than discourages the most efficient means of transporting international freight by air.”

The treaty amendment, known as Montreal Protocol 4 to the Warsaw Convention, permits the transmission of electronic waybills instead of paper ones. The 1929 Warsaw Convention was negotiated to provide liability protection for the fledgling aviation industry. Because electronic messaging did not exist at the time, electronically transmitted waybills were not recognized under the Convention as evidence of a legal contract between carrier and shipper.

Mr Shane, a Washington attorney who was Assistant Transportation Secretary for Policy and International Affairs during the Bush Administration, said: “This improvement is long overdue and something ICC has been campaigning for over many years. As it stood, the Warsaw Convention actually impeded the use of state-of-the-art electronic messaging as a way of enhancing the efficiency of cross-border transport, so essential to today’s ‘just-in-time’ global economy.”

The US Air Transport Association (ATA) has estimated that the Senate’s passage of the air cargo liability treaty will save the US economy $US 1 billion annually. Elimination of out-of-date requirements will reduce transportation costs by $US 5-6 per shipment.

Montreal Protocol 4 came into force in June of this year, following its ratification by 30 countries nearly a quarter of a century after it was adopted. The delay resulted from the protocol being linked to a far more controversial treaty related to passenger liability. Even after ratification, the absence of the United States from the list of signatories greatly reduced its usefulness.

The International Chamber of Commerce is the world business organization. ICC includes companies of every size and sector in its membership in more than 130 countries. The Air Transport Commission headed by Mr Shane brings together airlines, users, freight forwarders, insurers, pilots and airports, and thus speaks for the entire air transport industry worldwide.