International trade and maritime matters – why to opt for the Netherlands

Februari 2019

Introduction
The launch of the Netherlands Commercial Court (the “NCC”) has caused many to reach for their pens the last couple of weeks. And rightfully so, because as of 1 January 2019 the Dutch courts have proudly added the NCC as a new division to their judicial system. The NCC allows for proceedings to be conducted in the English language and therefore enables English speaking litigants to access the highly rewarded Dutch judicial system more easily.

The NCC, however, is not the first court in the Netherlands that provides for proceedings in the English language. The District Court of Rotterdam’s international trade and maritime division (“Rotterdam Maritime Court”) is running a pilot for proceedings to be conducted in the English language (from 1 January 2016). Furthermore, several highly rewarded Dutch arbitration committees already provided the option to conduct proceedings in English. This article zooms in on these less exposed Dutch courts and arbitration committees. First of all, some of the benefits of Dutch proceedings are briefly mentioned.    

Benefits of proceedings in the Netherlands
The Netherlands’ judicial system is known to be cost-efficient, non-corrupt and Dutch judges and lawyers are recognized to have extensive experience with and knowledge of complex cases. The Dutch courts are ranked in the top five worldwide.[1] Additionally, judgments rendered by Dutch courts can be enforced throughout the European Union without the need of judicial consent in the country of enforceability. After Brexit, this may not be the case anymore for judgments of English courts.

As the Netherlands are a party to the New York arbitration convention, arbitral awards from Dutch arbitration committees are also widely enforceable.

Rotterdam Maritime Court
As the Court of the biggest European Port, the Rotterdam Maritime Court unsurprisingly is specialised in matters concerning maritime and transport law as well as disputes concerning the international sale of goods. These matters often involve international parties. In order to facilitate parties who are unfamiliar with the Dutch language, the Rotterdam Maritime Court has introduced the option to conduct proceedings in the English language.  

As the Rotterdam Maritime Court has well-established knowledge of maritime issues, it is the place to go to when it comes to maritime and transport matters. The Dutch legislator has recognized this specialization in maritime and transport law and has given the Rotterdam Maritime Court exclusive competence in many maritime issues.[2] This effectively rules out other courts, such as the NCC, to deal with a case, if this case falls within the exclusive competence of the Rotterdam Maritime Court. Proceedings before the Rotterdam Maritime Court are even more cost efficient than proceedings before the NCC.

In addition, on a regular basis, summaries in the English language of civil court rulings issued by the Rotterdam Maritime Court are published online. Many of the rulings in these cases are of international significance and will therefore enable everyone to be informed about relevant court rulings.

Maritime, transport and trade law arbitration committees
The arbitration committees of respectively UNUM (formerly: TAMARA), FENEX and NAI are specialized in the field of (international) maritime, transport and trade law. Proceedings may be conducted in the English language, if the parties agree thereto. The rulings of the tribunals, however, in principle are not disclosed.

UNUM is the most important maritime arbitration body in the Netherlands. Since its predecessor was established in 1988, it has offered a platform for conducting professional arbitration proceedings in the areas of shipping, shipbuilding, transport, storage, logistics and international trade. Arbitration proceedings are conducted in accordance with the arbitration rules of UNUM which can be found on its website.

FENEX is a branch organisation for the freight forwarding sector. FENEX has a permanent arbitration tribunal since 1934, which settles disputes between freight forwarders and their customers on grounds of the Dutch Forwarding Conditions, Dutch Warehousing Conditions and the Terms and Conditions for Value Added Services (VAL) of the FENEX. FENEX recommends to follow its Procedure of Arbitration which can be found on its website.

In the field of trade law in a broad sense, NAI is worth mentioning. NAI is established in 1949 and operates as an independent institute that aims to promote the resolution and settlement of disputes by means of arbitration, binding advice and mediation and offers effective arbitration proceedings. NAI has published Arbitration Rules on its website. NAI does not deliver arbitral awards itself but – just like UNUM – has a list of expert arbitrators who can be assigned on a case-to-case basis.

Conclusion
In view of the fact that the Dutch judicial system is widely considered to be one of the most reliable judicial systems in the world and quite (cost) efficient, Dutch courts and Dutch arbitration committees may be viable alternatives to commercial and/or maritime courts in other jurisdictions and international arbitration institutes respectively.

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[1] https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/documents/WJP-ROLI-2018-June-Online-Edition_0.pdf
[2] Section 625 Dutch Code of Civil Procedure.

This article has also been published in Lexology.

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