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UN Convention will unify legal system for carriage of cargo between Europe and Asia

UN Convention will unify legal system for carriage of cargo between Europe and Asia

Railway cargo

Cargo carriage by rail between Europe and Asia will be made easier, quicker and thus cheaper thanks to the adoption of a new United Nations Convention unifying applicable legal rules.   

Until now, rail transport of goods from Asia to Europe was not covered by one uniform legislative system, putting rail at a disadvantage compared to other means of transport (road transport is subject to the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR), maritime transport covered by the Hague Visby Rules and air traffic covered by the Montreal Convention).  

Despite this drawback, rail freight between China and Europe has increased significantly in recent years, given that it has become much quicker (15-20 days) than sea fare (30-40 days), and is much cheaper than air. Volumes reached over 400,000 TEUs (twenty-feet equivalent units) in 2022. 

The Convention on the Contract for International Carriage of Goods by Rail, adopted last week by the Working Party on Rail Transport, will be forwarded to the Inland Transport Committee at its next session in February 2024 for the opening for signature by all States. 

"The adoption of this new Convention will bring long-distance rail freight on a level playing field with other means of transport, offering countries and logistics companies renewed choices. In addition, given that rail freight emits 5.7 times less Green House Gases (GHG) than road transport per tkm, this is good news for climate action, especially 10 days ahead of the opening of COP28”, said UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean. 

This new Convention will entail a number of advantages to the parties to the contract, which will be able to: 

  • Apply a single, simple and clear legal regime that focuses only on the main aspects of rail freight transport which covers the entire transport route from the premises of the consignor to those of the consignee; it allows to avoid multiple freight transportation regulations and their different contents. 

  • Use a single consignment note. 

  • Decide on many of the details of the contract to suit their individual needs.   

  • Apply it to multimodal transport operations, e.g. container transport by road or barge between senders and trans-shipment terminals, and from arrival terminals to recipients. 

  • Be subject to a single system for liability covering loss, damage or delay in delivery applying to all railway undertakings participating in end-to-end transport and to their customers. 

  • Apply a minimum liability level for the carrier with specific upper compensation thresholds, with the possibility to agree on higher thresholds. 

  • Opt-in to use a negotiable transport document to trade goods in transit. 


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Note to editors 

The Convention on the Contract for International Carriage of goods by Rail as a first Convention of a system of Unified Railway Law Conventions will become the 60th International Legal Agreement under the purview of UNECE’s Inland Transport Committee. 

UNECE’s Working Party on Rail Transport (SC.2) is an intergovernmental body which provides a pan-European forum for exchange of technical, legal and policy information and best practices in international rail transport.  It aims at promoting rail transport in UNECE member countries and to ensure its economic efficiency and environmental sustainability.  


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