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Remedies for Non-performance:

Perspectives from CISG, UNIDROIT Principles & PECL

Chengwei, Liu [*]
September 2003



  2.1 Introduction
  2.2 The Concepts: Breach of Contract vs. Non-performance
  2.3 Remedial Schemes of the Studied Instruments
        2.3.1 CISG Part III (Partial)
        2.3.2 UNIDROIT Principles Chapter 7
        2.3.3 PECL Chapters 8, 9
        2.3.4 Concluding Remarks
  2.4 Structure of this Presentation

     No aspect of a system of contract law is more revealing of its underlying assumptions than is the law that prescribes the relief available for breach.[1] The remedies available to an aggrieved party for a breach of contract can in all significant legal systems be classified into three basic categories. Firstly, an aggrieved party may be able to claim specific performance. As such, specific performance hardly gives the aggrieved party exactly the performance to which he was entitled to, unless it is supplemented with some kind of an additional remedy, such as a monetary relief. Secondly, the aggrieved party may have the right to require substitutionary relief. A relevant relief here is compensation, and almost always a monetary compensation, for the loss that the party has suffered for performance not received. Finally, the aggrieved party may have the right to put an end to the contractual relationship. In such a case the third remedy can also be seen in that the aggrieved party is put into a position where he would have been had the contract never been made. The three categories are not exclusive in that monetary compensation will also very often be available together with a claim for specific performance and an act to put an end to the contract. Furthermore, the above mentioned three basic categories of remedies also appear in different variations, such as a right to price reduction and suspension of performance.[2]


The first and paramount task of international commercial contracts is organizing the relationship between the parties in an optimal manner. This means that contracts must determine the rights and duties of the parties so that the transaction works smoothly and its costs can be minimized. A second important task is providing remedies for cases of breach of contract. Requirements as to the rules for such contracts, as well as to the contracts themselves, have to be assessed in light of these aims. The attainment of the first goal is mainly a task of the parties in drafting their individual contracts, but nevertheless may be supported by the applicable rules, as the UNIDROIT Principles do in Chapter 6, Section 1 (Performance in General). Though the parties to a contract very often deal with the consequences of breaches of contract as well, they rely more often on the applicable rules. It is easier for parties to organize their relationship than to deal with its destruction.[3]

Remedies available to a party are a key consideration for that party, particularly if the contract is breached. However, the issue of remedies is one of the areas in which the diversity of legal systems is obvious.[4] During the drafting of the Convention the most difficult to formulate were those dealing with the remedies of buyer and seller for breach of contract by the other party, which are still among the most likely to generate controversy. Many aspects of the law of sales reflect merchant practice, and to the extent that this practice is standardized in international sales transactions, the problems in formulating the text of the Draft Convention were reduced. However the provisions in respect of breach of contract do not reflect merchant practice. They reflect the efforts of lawyers from many legal systems to reconcile their views on the appropriate actions to be taken by the parties and by a tribunal in case of breach. The result has been a series of provisions which are in general harmony with one another but which will often be unfamiliar to lawyers from any given legal system.

Thus, the present Chapter identifies generally the scope of relief available under each of the three bodies of rules, namely Part III (partial) of the CISG, Chapter 7 of the UNIDROIT Principles and Chapters 8 and 9 of the PECL, in light of traditional and modern theories. This Chapter seeks to take an overview of remedies in the event of non-performance while leaving the substantively major remedial provisions to be discussed in the following chapters. In so doing, it firstly touches on the definition of non-performance in general. After that, the available remedies are shown in a manner limited to a descriptively bare outline rather than a more detailed discussion. Finally, this Chapter outlines briefly the structure of this contribution.


"Non-performance" is the term used in the UPICC and the PECL, analogous to "breach of contract" used in the CISG. A brief survey reveals that breach of contract as a unitary institution of contract law is not familiar to all legal systems.[5] The concept as such is derived from Anglo-American law. But a unitary approach is also adopted in the Romanic legal systems; there it is called non-performance.[6] To avoid plunging into a battle of conceptual issues, I will use the both terms, i.e. "non-performance" and "breach" equally in this contribution to mean that a contract is not performed as originally contracted.

The Convention uses the basic and unitary concept of "breach of contract", which may now be regarded as widely, although not yet generally accepted. Under the Convention the notion "breach of contract" covers all failures of a party to perform any of his obligations. There is no distinction between main obligations and auxiliary obligations. And it does not matter whether the obligation had its origin in the contract, in a usage or in the Convention itself. Under certain conditions a breach of contract is considered to be fundamental (Art. 25).[7] A breach of contract is always given when the objective facts of a breach have occurred, hence irrespective of whether there are grounds for exemption or not. It follows from that the term failure to perform as contained in Arts. 79, 80 (Exemption) refers to any breach of contract, which is "to be conceived here in the broadest sense of the word. Apart from late performance and non-performance it includes, in particular, non-conform[ing] performance and relates to the obligations of both the seller and the buyer".[8]

On the other hand, both the UNIDROIT Principles and the PECL, where "breach" is called non-performance, set up a substantially identical definition to the CISG. In the UNIDROIT Principles, it is expressly set out in Art. 7.1.1 that: "Non-performance is failure by a party to perform any of its obligations under the contract, including defective performance or late performance." This article defines "non-performance" for the purpose of the Principles. Particular attention should be drawn to two features of the definition. The first is that "non-performance" is defined so as to include all forms of defective performance as well as complete failure to perform. So it is non-performance for a builder to erect a building which is partly in accordance with the contract and partly defective or to complete the building late. The second feature is that for the purposes of the Principles the concept of "non-performance" includes both non-excused and excused non-performance.[9] The PECL has set up a similar structure and terms for a future European Code. "Breach" is called non-performance, and occurs whenever a party fails to perform any of its obligations under the contract. As the Official Comment to the PECL makes it clear: "Under the system adopted by the Principles there is non-performance whenever a party does not perform any obligation under the contract. The non-performance may consist in a defective performance or in a failure to perform at the time performance is due, be it a performance which is effected too early, too late or never. It includes a violation of an accessory duty such as the duty of a party not to disclose the other party's trade secrets. Where a party has a duty to receive or accept the other party's performance a failure to do so will also constitute a non-performance."[10]

Clearly, the difference between these two basic concepts, i.e. "breach of contract" as used in the CISG and "non-performance" in the UNIDROIT Principles or in the PECL, is not of essence. Indeed, the process of legal harmonization in global economic markets has made a further step forward when non-performance is defined in terms under it that include all failures and defects in performance, including those that are excused, and avoids terminology emphasizing breach or fault. A commentator's statement on the CISG confirms this: "Exemptions, as can be seen particularly well from the context of impediments, only lead to the removal of certain legal consequences of the breach of contract, while others continue to exist. The reason for it is a breach of contract [...] cannot be eliminated as such by way of exemptions. From this it follows that the term 'breach of contract' does not necessarily include an accusation."[11]


2.3.1 CISG Part III (Partial)

The CISG grants reciprocal remedies within three basic categories to the buyer and seller and clearly establishes that the primary remedy available to an injured party is specific relief, i.e. specific performance. Secondly, the Convention establishes that an injured party shall have a right to a substitutionary relief, which requires the party in breach to pay some amount of money to compensate the loss suffered by the other party. Finally, an aggrieved party shall have a right to avoid (terminate) the contract and thus put an end to the contractual relationship. As such, the remedial provisions of the CISG generally correspond with all major legal systems.[12] The CISG also follows the above mentioned three-category system and thus provides three basic remedies, namely specific performance, damages and avoidance of the contract.

Under the Convention, the remedies available for both the buyer and the seller, each dealt with under a section in Part III, are described in a unified scheme that is clear and easy to follow.[13] In this respect, the remedies available for a breach of contract are summarized in Arts. 45 and 61, which set forth reciprocal remedies for the buyer and seller, respectively. Art. 45(1) gives an overview of the remedies available to the buyer in the event of breach of the seller, namely specific performance, avoidance, compensatory damages, and reduction in price. The seller's remedies are enumerated at Art. 61(1). They differ from the remedies available to the buyer for obvious reasons in two respects. First, the remedy of claiming a reduction in price is not available to the seller. Second, there is no need for substitutional performance or the requirement that the buyer cure a defect in his performance.[14]

Generally, the CISG represents a compromise between the civil law and common law systems, sometimes reflecting concepts that are unique to one system and not the other.[15] Especially, the availability of specific performance as a primary remedy for a breach of contract under the CISG, corresponds with the civil law countries, contrary to the common law countries which regard damages as the primary remedy for a breach of contract.[16] The CISG makes specific performance available to both the seller (Art. 46) and the buyer (Art. 62). Before the parties have fulfilled their obligations, at least in terms of its placement in the Convention's overall scheme, specific performance is the primary remedy although damages are equally available. Under Art. 46, specific performance of the breaching seller may arise in the form of the seller's right to delivery, substitute delivery and repair. While under Art. 62, the seller may require the breaching buyer to pay the price, take delivery or perform his other obligations, unless the seller has resorted to a remedy which is inconsistent with this requirement.

Besides specific performance, the right to obtain damages for a breach of contract plays an important role within the CISG. Damages (or monetary compensation) may be the only available remedy for an aggrieved party if, e.g. the requirements for granting specific performance or the right to avoid the contract are not met. It can, therefore, also be argued that damages are the primary remedy pursuant to the CISG. Moreover, the aggrieved party's right to obtain monetary compensation supplements substantionally the rights to require specific performance and avoidance in that he always has the right obtain damages. For the sake of putting the aggrieved party into as good a position as he would have been had the contract been performed as agreed, the aggrieved party has, therefore, always a right to claim for damages in addition to a claim for specific performance or avoidance.[17] Damages include not only compensation for the expenses incurred by a party, but also the loss of profit. The amount of damages is limited by two conditions: foreseeability and mitigation. Foreseeability means that damages may not exceed the loss that the party in breach foresaw or should have foreseen (Art. 74). The mitigation rule imposes on the innocent party the duty to mitigate the loss (Art. 77). The right to receive interest is also available in addition to the right to damages (Art. 78).

Arts. 49 and 64 of the CISG provide an aggrieved the right to declare the contract avoided. Avoidance of contract under the CISG puts an end to the performance obligations of both parties. It is, however, required that the breach is a fundamental breach.[18] The idea behind this is said that the CISG was designed to take into account the special characteristics of the international sale of goods, such as long distances involved, costs of transportation and the length of the term of the contracts. Due to this design, the CISG emphasises remedies that seek to preserve the contract notwithstanding a breach.[19] This deliberation is further supported when the CISG provides a tool in Art. 47/63, familiar to the German legal system and known as the Nachfrist principle, where the aggrieved has the option of fixing an additional period of time for the breaching party to perform his obligations, and during that period he may not resort to any other remedy for the breach, unless he receives notice that the other party will not perform.

Moreover, the CISG contains additional remedies besides the above mentioned. Firstly, as for the anticipatory breach, besides the right to avoid the contract as contained in Art. 49/64 when an anticipatory fundamental breach exists (Art. 72), the CISG provides a possibility to suspend performance in certain situations as provided for in Art. 71. Under this Article a party may suspend the performance of his obligations if, after conclusion of the contract, it becomes apparent that the other party will not perform a substantional part of his obligations. Secondly, the CISG evidences a solicitude for the interests of the seller in "curing" defective performance of the contract. Where a breach has occurred, the CISG encourages the Seller to keep his contractual promises by offering him the express right to cure his own mistakes (Art. 48). Thirdly, the Buyer has, according to Art. 50, the right to a reduction of price in the case of non-conformity of goods. The right to a reduction in price serves as an alternative to damages being a kind of restitutionary measure of monetary relief, available even where the buyer is not entitled to avoidance. Fourthly, if under the contract the buyer is to specify the form, measurement or other features of the goods and he fails to make such specification either on the date agreed upon or within a reasonable time after receipt of a request from the seller, the Seller may, without prejudice to any other rights he may have, make the specification himself in accordance with the requirements of the buyer that may be known to him (Art. 65).

2.3.2 UNIDROIT Principles Chapter 7

Chapter 7 of the UNIDROIT Principles dealing with remedial issues is significant on at least two levels. In practical terms, it is the substantive heart of the whole Principles. It is where the Principles' solutions to a large proportion of real world disputes in commercial transactions are to be found. It will be a powerful support for the harmonization of actual outcomes and improve the reliability of the often unpredictable results of disputes. The substantive content of Chapter 7 is important as an illustration of the creative power of the UNIDROIT Principles. Chapter 7 is also important as an example of how the Principles work and of their usefulness in the emerging pattern of harmonized international commercial law. Chapter 7 brings closer together the substantive outcomes in courts, arbitral tribunals, and institutions of alternative dispute resolution in different legal systems, thus providing a prime example of how harmonization of international commercial law can improve the law.[20]

Chapter 7 is divided into four sections made up of 31 articles. Like the CISG PART III, UPICC Chapter 7 is systematically structured to favor the existence and performance of the contract and to minimize the instances in which the contract is terminated before performance is complete. Section 1 focus on bringing about performance of the contract and avoiding termination, especially with the devices such as Cure by Non-performing Party (Art. 7.1.4) and Additional Period for Performance (Art. 7.1.5), designed to bring about performance rather than contract failure after difficulties have been encountered by the parties during performance. Moreover, Section 2 takes a superior and more harmonious path dealing with the right to performance, what Common-Lawyers call specific performance and which is the basic preferred remedy in the CISG as well as in many legal systems of the world. Arts. 7.2.1 (Performance of Monetary Obligation) and 7.2.2 (Performance of Non-monetary Obligation) states the general preference for orders to perform, but Art. 7.2.2 notes exceptions to this general rule. Art. 7.2.3 further deals with the issue of Repair and Replacement of Defective Performance.

Although often regarded as the most drastic and last resorted remedy in case of non-performance, the right to termination is ensured by Section 3 of Chapter 7, functioning equally as CISG's avoidance provisions, when performance are so late or so defective that the aggrieved party cannot use it for its intended purpose, or the behaviour of the non-performing party may in other respects be such that the aggrieved party should be permitted to terminate the contract. In this Section, Arts. 7.3.1 and 7.3.2 state generally the issues of Right to Terminate the Contract and Notice of Termination. Arts. 7.3.3 and 7.3.4 then deal with Anticipatory Non-performance and Adequate Assurance of due Performance in case of anticipatory non-performance. And Arts. 7.3.5 (Effects of Termination in General) and 7.3.6 (Restitution) finally clear the effects of termination.

Finally, as almost all legal systems or instruments do, Section 4 of Chapter 7 provides damages to the aggrieved party. Arts. 7.4.1 and 7.4.2 state the general Right to Damages and the underlying principle of Full Compensation, subject to the limitations such as Certainty of Harm (Art. 7.4.3), Foreseeability of Harm (Art. 7.4.4) and Mitigation of Harm (Art. 7.4.8), and lessing Harm Due in Part to Aggrieved Party (Art. 7.4.7). In addition, interests is also grouped under the heading of damages in Section 4 and dealt with separately under the titles of Interest for Failure to Pay Money (Art. 7.4.9) and Interest on Damages (Art. 7.4.10).

2.3.3 PECL Chapters 8, 9

Under the PECL, two chapters establish the remedial scheme: Chapter 8 deals with Non-performance and Remedies in General. Art. 8:101 states the remedies available as: "(1) Whenever a party does not perform an obligation under the contract and the non-performance is not excused under Article 8:108, the aggrieved party may resort to any of the remedies set out in Chapter 9. (2) Where a party's non-performance is excused under Article 8:108, the aggrieved party may resort to any of the remedies set out in Chapter 9 except claiming performance and damages. (3) A party may not resort to any of the remedies set out in Chapter 9 to the extent that its own act caused the other party's non-performance."

Thus, the remedies available for non-performance depend upon whether the non-performance is not excused, is excused due to an impediment under Art. 8:108 or results from behaviour of the other party. A non-performance which is not excused may give the aggrieved party the right to claim performance - recovery of money due (Art. 9:101) or specific performance (Art. 9:102) - to claim damages and interests (Arts. 9:501 through 9:510), to withhold its own performance (Art. 9:201), to terminate the contract (Arts. 9:301 through 9:309) and to reduce its own performance (Art. 9:401). If a party violates a duty to receive or accept performance the other party may also make use of the remedies just mentioned. A non-performance which is excused due to an impediment does not give the aggrieved party the right to claim specific performance or to claim damages (Article 8:108). However, the other remedies set out in Chapter 9 may be available to the aggrieved party. The fact that the non-performance is caused by the creditor's act - or omission has an effect on the remedies open to the obligee. It would be contrary to good faith and fairness for the creditor to have a remedy when it is responsible for the non-performance. This effect may be total, that is to say that the creditor cannot exercise any remedy, or partial. The exact consequence of the creditor's behaviour will be examined with each remedy.[21]

It is to be noted that the PECL similarly provides the additional remedies as contained in the CISG or in the UPICC such as cure by non-performing party (Art. 8:104), assurance of performance in case of anticipatory non-performance (Art. 8:105) and notice fixing additional period for non-performance (Art. 8:106). However, it is should also be mentioned here that the party's right to withhold its own performance as contained in PECL Art. 9:201 (as well as in UPICC Art. 7.1.3, CISG Art. 58) until the other party performs its obligation will not be given detailed discussion in this contribution. This right is not regarded as a remedy for breach of contract.[22]

 2.3.4 Concluding Remarks

As demonstrated above, three basic remedies are provided by each of the three instruments, namely specific performance, damages and termination of the contract. However, the discussions in this contribution are premised on the assumption that the parties have not chosen some other remedy or remedies within their contractual relationship. Any such remedies chosen by the parties would obviously fall outside the scope of this contribution and will not be given detailed discussion. The most important principle of each of the three instruments must be mentioned here, however, that is to regard the contract made between the parties as prevailing.

Contractual freedom is thus the rule, also reflecting the start point for various legal systems in general. Moreover, it is important to note that the remedies available for a breach of contract will be subject to, not only the agreement made between the parties, but also any practice or usage which can be regarded as an implied part of the agreement. In case of a breach of contract it is, therefore, necessary to first look into the contract executed between the parties or any practice or usage of relevance.[23] Only if the agreement and any relevant practice or usage is silent, the provisions of the applicable rules - CISG, UNIDROIT Principles or PECL or any other laws-- concerning remedies will be at hand. However, it should also be noted that, in cases of such remedies chosen by the parties or implied by relevant practice or usage, potential uncertainty may arise depending on the types of remedies chosen by the parties. This becomes a clearer problem in the context of the CISG. Art. 4 of the CISG sets forth the scope of the CISG and expressly excludes "the validity of the contract or of any of its provisions or of any usage". Although the CISG does give the parties the freedom to choose their own remedies, it is not necessarily clear that these remedies will be enforced the same way in every country, if at all.[24]

Another important issue related closely to remedial scheme deals with situations in which a party is not able to perform due to the change of circumstances, in the form of hardship or force majeure. It is true that, unlike under ULIS, the remedies available under the Convention or in the two Principles are not effected by a particular type of breach. In general, the type of the breach is of no importance in determining which remedies are available.[25] However, on the other hand, the remedies available for non-performance depend on whether the non-performance is excused. This point is made clear by the Official Comment to the PECL,[26] and similar approaches may also be found in the CISG or in the UNIDROIT Principles. In general, if the non-performance is excused, the aggrieved party does not have the right to claim damages under each of the three instruments. Nor, under the UNIDROIT Principles and the PECL where an excused non-performance arises, can the aggrieved party require specific performance. While under the CISG Art. 79, there seems to be no textual basis for the exclusion of specific performance even in such impediments as making performance impossible.

Finally, it should be noted that "fault" is not generally a prerequisite to a finding of contractual liability. However, if the non-performance is caused by the obligee's act - or omission - he may not resort to any of the remedies. Non-performance is applied for cases of failure to perform where the obligor carries the risk. The obligee has no remedies against the obligor if he is unable to receive the performance due to his own "fault". His failure to receive performance may in itself be a non-performance which may give the other party remedies such as the right to terminate the contract.


After the general review made in this Chapter (as well as in Chapter 1), in line with the three major remedies and other valuable deliberations, the discussion in this contribution, although the description of the major substantive contents will have to be limited here to a bare outline, is furthered in details grouped roughly under the headings as follows:


Preserving performance by means of specific performance, so-called Nachfrist procedure, cure by non-performing party or the reduction of price is of great significance in the context of international commercial transactions, where a great deal of time and effort may be incurred by the innocent party in finding an alternate one. This is particularly true when the contract concerns unique and otherwise identified or specific items. But even in cases where the items are not especially unique or otherwise identified it might be easier and less expensive to require performance of obligations of the breaching party instead of seeking damages or obtaining the subject matter from somewhere else.

A clear indication from the present CISG is that it provides an aggrieved party, both the seller (under Art. 46) and the buyer (under Art. 62), a clear right to require performance of obligations under the contract. As a rule, the CISG adopts the primacy of specific performance, which was nevertheless once regarded as one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a compromise on the final text of the Convention. This will be discussed in Chapter3. The CISG has certain provisions that even more clearly demonstrate the priority given to specific performance. This is confirmed through giving rise to an opportunity to save the contract from being avoided, on the one hand, by Arts. 47 and 63, where the aggrieved party is given the right to grant an additional period of time for performance -- the so-called Nachfrist procedure; on the other hand, by Art. 48, which provides the seller with the right to cure (by either remedying the non-conformity or delivering substitute goods) under certain conditions that secure the buyer's interests. These two means serving to preserve performance will be given more details in Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, respectively.

Indeed, the three means mentioned above can be grouped roughly under the aggrieved party's right to performance because the nature of these remedies requires the non-performing party to perform his contractual obligations as originally agreed. However, along with the aforementioned means, there is another remedy designed to preserve the bargain i.e. reduction of the price, provided by the traditional civil law doctrine action quanti minoris, where the aggrieved party is entitled to a proportional reduction in the contract price where the other party's performance is incomplete or otherwise fails to conform to the contract. This is expressly contained in CISG Art. 50 and will be dealt with in Chapter 6.

In sum, theses methods preserving performance illustrate that one of the main purposes of the CISG is to prevent termination of the contract by preserving the enforceability of the contract as concluded by the parties if it is feasible and to avoid economic waste in trade. This principle is also followed under the UNIDROIT Principles and the PECL. Furthermore, the examination in this PART will demonstrate that the two sets of Principles have taken a more modern and uniform way to handle these issues. Arguably, the primacy of preserving performance by mean of various remedies and the preference of specific performance over other remedies such as termination (PART III) or damages (PART IV), appear to be established under each of the three instruments and bear great significance in international commercial transactions.


The third major remedy of the aggrieved party -- apart from specific performance and damages -- is termination of the contract. It should be mentioned here that the term "termination" in this context has a meaning resembling in effect the term "avoidance" in the CISG, the same as which is used in the UPICC and PECL in various provisions in the context of the invalidity. In the context of defects of consent resulting in invalidity, "avoidance" means under the UPICC/PECL and most legal systems that a contract becomes void ex tunc. In the context of the CISG "avoidance", by contrast, means that a contract is terminated ex nunc. To avoid being plunged into a battle of conceptual issues, both terms, i.e. "termination" and "avoidance" (as well as their various parts of speech or tenses) are used equally in this PART to mean that a contract is terminated ex nunc, unless specified otherwise.

It is said that the right to termination is the most drastic remedy in case of non-performance, which reflects the gravity of the negative effects of non-performance or performance not complying with the terms of contract. Whether in a case of non-performance by one party the other party should have the right to terminate the contract depends upon the weighing of a number of considerations. A crucial challenge is therefore to identify the grounds on which the aggrieved party may be entitled to terminate the contract where the other party has failed to perform his obligations in accordance with the contract terms. In this respect, Chapter 7 carries on a general discussion on the major grounds for a party's right to terminate the contract as contained in the CISG, UNIDROIT Principles and PECL. To go on with the discussion, Chapter 8 focuses on the concept of fundamental non-performance; Chapter 9 examines the suspension & termination mechanism against anticipatory non-performance; Chapter 10 touches on the termination of breached installment or part.

As to be demonstrated through these examinations, the grounds for termination focus on the fundamentality of the non-performance, actual or anticipatory. An aggrieved party may terminate the contract only if the non-performance of the other party is "fundamental", i.e. material and not merely of minor importance. Read together with the remedial specific performance discussed in PART II, limiting the availability of the right to termination as to be discussed in this PART serves a further contribution to preserving the enforceability of the contract and arguably to promoting good faith and efficiency in commercial dealings.

After the identification of the grounds for termination, Chapter 11 reviews the declaration of termination. As a rule termination is effective only if notice thereof is given by the aggrieved party to the defaulting party. Other than this mere notice, by way of contrast with the approach of some civil law jurisdictions, there is no such procedural requirements restricting the exercise of termination as that the party avoiding the contract obtain judicial approval or confirmation. Termination may be effected by the act of the aggrieved party alone. Generally speaking, termination affects the legal life of the contract and the contractual relationship of the parties. Finally, the effects of termination are to be explored in Chapter 12.


There can be no doubt that it has been established as a general principle of law that in case of breach of contract, the aggrieved party is entitled to damages. Remedies other than damages which are available to an aggrieved party such as specific performance and termination have previously been discussed. To the extent these remedies do not fully protect the aggrieved party's expectations under the contract, a general rule of full compensation which is applied when a party is entitled to claim damages has been well established under each of the three instruments. Generally, damages have to be paid in money and are not to be recovered as restitution or restoration. They require a breach of an obligation regardless of whether the breach consists of non-performance, late performance or defective performance.

In this PART, the discussion in Chapter 13 will indicate that the right to damages is established under the three instruments as a controlling remedy almost invariably pursued either in and of itself or in conjunction with other remedies; and that the principle underpinning the general measure of damages is full compensation. Damages can be claimed no matter whether the breach of contract has been culpably committed intentionally or negligently or in any other way. The mere fact of a breach of contract is sufficient. Compensation for damages is, however, limited by the some methods such as foreseeability of loss, certainty of harm, contribution to harm or the duty to mitigation. These limiting methods will be given details in Chapter 14. Nonetheless, the aggrieved party is generally entitled to recover damages whenever it suffers loss from the other party's unjustified failure to perform. Thus, even in the case of termination of the contract, damages may be requested to compensate the loss arising from such termination. In such a situation, two methods of measuring damages are available. As to be demonstrated in Chapter 15, when the contract is avoided, damages generally amount to the difference between the contract price and the costs of a cover transaction, together with any further damages; where a cover transaction has not been undertaken with regard to the contract breached and a market price is available, the injured party can also measure his damages with the difference between the contract price and the market price.

All legal systems appear to recognize the validity and social utility of a clause which estimates future damages, especially where proof of actual damage would be difficult. Such a clause, sometimes referred to as a "liquidated damages clause" and sometimes as a "penalty clause", is dealt with in the two Principles as agreed payment for non-performance (although the CISG doesn't expressly make such clauses valid in all systems). Such clauses are to be discussed in Chapter 16. Another important aspect which may falls under the general heading of damages is the recovery of attorneys' fees. This issue is of particular significance in international commercial transactions where such fees usually amount to a large number, and therefore will be explored in Chapter 17. Finally, the damages recoverable may include interest upon the amount of the loss from the date at which the loss was incurred to the date of payment. However, the determination of interest is not an issue to be simply resolved after the establishment of liability, but a question that deserves the strictest scrutiny. Thus, Chapter 18 will focus on the payment of interest.


The three main aspects of non-performance in a broad sense are the facts of the breach, i.e. failure to perform an obligation including defective performance and late performance, the responsibility of the non-performing party and the legal consequences of the breach, i.e. particular remedies such as specific performance (PART II), damages (PART III) or termination (PART IV). The matter to be discussed in this PART relates to the responsibility of the non-performing party. The main question addressed in this PART is: How can a party be excused from his primary and secondary obligations (performance and damages) under an originally agreed international commercial contract, or entitled to restoring its equilibrium in case of changed circumstances?

This PART begins with a general review of different approaches to the problem of changed circumstances, which excuses a party from performance of its obligations when a contract has become unexpectedly onerous or impossible to perform. It demonstrates that the concept of changed circumstances, also referred to as rebus sic stantibus, has in its basic form been incorporated into so many legal systems and has found a widely recognized expression in international instruments such as the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the CISG, UNIDROIT Principles and PECL, that it may be regarded as a general principle of law, albeit on different theoretical bases. This is confirmed by international arbitral practice that lots of awards have also admitted, albeit in exceptional cases and with care and prudence, the application of rebus sic stantibus, and regarded it as a general principle of law. (Chapter 19)

Then the discussion focuses on the two major legal concepts dealing with the problem of changed circumstances, which are exceptions to the basic rule pacta sunt servanda: force majeure (Chapter 20), which is at stake where the performance of the party concerned has, at least temporarily, become impossible, and primarily directed at settling the problems resulting from non-performance, either by suspension or by termination; and hardship (Chapter 21), which occurs where the performance of the disadvantaged party has become much more burdensome, but not impossible, and is mainly directed at the adaptation of the contract. Finally, the force majeure or hardship clauses which are frequently introduced into contracts in international trade are at hand (Chapter 22). It is to be noted that the doctrine of changed circumstances or rebus sic stantibus should only be applied with care and prudence and admitted in exceptional cases, especially if the intention of the parties has been clearly expressed in a contract. The standardized use of relevant clauses may help to define the criteria which may trigger excuses for non-performance and simplify an appropriate procedure for the suspension, termination or adaptation of agreed contracts, and are thus necessary to protect the interests of both parties in cases of unexpected changes in circumstances, in light of the observation of the good faith and equity principle.

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FOOTNOTES: Chapter 2

* Chengwei, Liu. LL.M. of Law School of Renmin University of China, P.O. Box 9-01 No. 1 (International Law), Law School of Renmin University of China, 59 Zhongguancun Street, Beijing 100872, China. E-mail: Genes@263.net.

1. See E. Allan Farnsworth in "Damages and Specific Relief": 27 American Journal of Comparative Law (1979); pp. 247-253. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/farns.html>.

2. See Jussi Koskinen in "CISG, Specific Performance and Finnish Law": Publication of the Faculty of Law of the University of Turku, Private law publication series B:47 (1999). Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/koskinen1.html>.

3. See Maskow, Dietrich in "Hardship and Force Majeure": 40 Am.J.Comp.L. (1992); p. 657. Available online at <http://tldb.uni-koeln.de/TLDB.html>; TLDB Document ID: 126400.

4. See Survey of the International Sale of Goods 3, L. Lafili, et al. eds., (1986); p. 14.

5. For instance, German law and some legal systems inspired by it (such as Austrian and Swiss law) do not use a unitary approach. Instead they distinguish between the various causes of breach, especially between impossibility of performance, delay, and all other instances of breach; in addition, following Roman traditions, defects of individual goods are dealt with on a special basis. This system of splitting up breach of contract into several more or less separate institutions has proved to be quite inadequate in many respects because it gives rise to difficult problems of delimitation. However, under the impact of comparative law and the unification of sales law there is now a strong tendency in German academic writings to adopt the unitary approach.

6. See Ulrich Drobnig in "General Principles of European Contract Law": Petar Sarcevic & Paul Volken eds., International Sale of Goods: Dubrovnik Lectures, Oceana (1986); p. 318. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/drobnig.html>.

7. See Fritz Enderlein in "Rights and Obligations of the Seller Under the U.N. Convention on Contracts for the International Sales of Goods": Sarcevic & Volken eds., Dubrovinik Lectures (1986); p. 188. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/enderlein1.html>.

8. See Fritz Enderlein, Dietrich Maskow, International Sales Law: United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, Oceana Publication (1992); p. 318, 320, 336. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/enderlein.html>.

9. See Comment on Art. 7.1.1 UPICC.

10. See Comment and Notes to the PECL: Art. 8:101. Comment A. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/text/peclcomp45.html>.

11. Supra. note 6.

12. Supra. note 2.

13. See Nayiri Boghossian in "A Comparative Study of Specific Performance Provisions in the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods": Pace Review of the Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, Kluwer (1999-2000); p. 15. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/boghossian.html>.

14. See Robert Koch in "The Concept of Fundamental Breach of Contract under the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG)": Pace Review of the Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) 1998, Kluwer Law International (1999); p. 297. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/koch.html>.

15. Supra. note 13, p. 10. In general, the CISG has features that are familiar from both of the two major legal systems, i.e. civil and common law systems. However, on the other hand, the CISG is an international convention which reflects the compromise between civil law and common law aspects; and it has therefore not been possible to achieve a totally uniform scheme of remedies compared with different domestic legal systems. The range of remedies is more comprehensive than what is available under common law and some of these remedies are even foreign to common law.

16. Supra. note 2.

17. Ibid.

18. Under the Convention, apart from the damages remedy, avoidance and substitute delivery are only available when a fundamental breach occurs.

19. In a broad way, remedies for breach of contract in sales law can be broken into two main categories: one where the contract can be terminated or avoided by the parties, the other where the remedy is granted while the contract remains in force. Since parties will typically expect their contracts to be performed or at least stay in effect, the primary emphasis should be on the remedies that operate without having to avoid the contract. (See Peter A. Piliounis in "The Remedies of Specific Performance, Price Reduction and Additional Time (Nachfrist) under the CISG: Are these worthwhile changes or additions to English Sales Law?"(1999). Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/piliounis.html>.)

20. See Arthur Rosett in "UNIDROIT Principles and Harmonization of International Commercial Law: Focus on Chapter Seven". Available online at <http://www.unidroit.org/english/publications/review/articles/1997-3.htm>.

21. Supra. note 10, Comment B.

22. See Ole Lando in "Salient Features of the Principles of European Contract Law: A Comparison with the UCC": 13 Pace International Law Review (Fall 2001); p. 360. Available online at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/lando.html>.

23. Supra. note 2.

24. One such example would be if the parties operating under the CISG specifically agreed that the only available remedy was specific performance. Under English law, e.g., specific performance is a discretionary remedy. While it is unlikely that the parties would agree to such a remedy, there would be no conflict between the agreement for specific performance and Art. 46 of the CISG. On the other hand, an English court applying general legal principles would be unlikely to grant specific performance where the court did not consider that the situation merited the exercise of discretion in favour of specific performance. A more likely issue is the question of the quantum of damages agreed by the parties. Under the CISG, there is no limit on the amount of compensation that may be agreed to be paid upon breach of a contract. In contrast, English common law draws a distinction between genuine pre-estimates of damage (referred to as "liquidated damages") versus clauses viewed as punitive or penal. Penalty clauses are considered invalid and will not be enforced by an English court. So while the parties are generally free to choose their own remedies, English law will not enforce all of the remedies, at least not to the same degree. (Supra. note 19.)

25. This principle is subject to two exceptions under the CISG. First, substitute delivery and reduction in price are only available in case of the delivery of non-conforming goods. It is disputed whether goods, which are not free of third-party rights (in the sense of Arts. 41 and 42), can be considered non-conforming. Secondly, in cases of non-delivery and non-payment or failure to take delivery, the buyer’s or the seller’s right of avoidance, respectively, is subject to a "Nachfrist-type procedure," which allows avoidance only after having fixed a reasonable length of time for the defaulting party to remedy his non-performance (Art. 49(1)(b) / 64(1)(b)). (Supra. note 14, p. 298.)

26. Supra. note 21.

Pace Law School Institute of International Commercial Law - Last updated October 27, 2003
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