How to Communicate effectively (Part IV) - Use Standard Vocabulary for Export Import

Fundamental requirement in any kind of communication is that speaker and audience must understand each other clearly and unambiguously. This is vital in trade and commerce where any vague and unclear understanding may lead to financial loss and/or costly legal battle. Given the nature of International trade where buyer and seller come from different country, culture and language - it is imperative that buyer and seller understand precisely the nature of transaction - most important who is responsible for what.

Using standard vocabulary or glossary for export, import, logistics, finance etc. make sure that there is less scope for ambiguity. There are quite a few glossaries for exim terms but the most important and widely accepted one is the INCOTERM published by International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).


In any international transaction, Incoterm can answer questions like:

  • Who pays port charge ?
  • Who is responsible for export clearance
  • Who arranges transportation?
  • Who has a right to shipping documents?
  • Who insures, for how much, at what level of coverage? etc. etc.

So, if your foreign trading partner is using these sales terms in their purchase orders, quotations and invoices, you better know what they mean. Remember, courts and international organizations like United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) have endorsed Incoterm.


INCOTERM provides a set of international rules for the interpretation of the most commonly used trade terms. It clearly defines the role and responsibility of seller and buyer in the trade term so that there is no scope for ambiguity or misinterpretation.

Among the best known INCOTERMS are EXW (Ex works), FOB (Free on Board), CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight), DDU (Delivered Duty Unpaid), and CPT (Carriage Paid To).

ICC introduced the first version of Incoterms - short for "International Commercial Terms" - in 1936. Since then, ICC expert lawyers and trade practitioners have updated them six times to keep pace with the development of international trade. The latest version is INCOTERM 2000, so all sales contracts made after January 1' 2000 will refer to INCOTERM 2000 unless there is any special agreement between seller and buyer.

Correct use of Incoterms goes a long way to providing the legal certainty upon which mutual confidence between business partners must be based. To be sure of using them correctly, trade practitioners need to consult the full ICC texts, and to beware of the many unauthorized summaries and approximate versions that abound on the web.


  • revised in 2000 (sixth time). Use the latest version only from ICC Website (please see ref. below).
  • is widely used throughout the world
  • divides transaction costs and responsibilities between buyer and seller
  • reflects state of the art transportation practices
  • is available in most major trading languages
  • closely corresponds to the U.N. Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods
  • runs like a thread through all foreign trade disciplines.


  1. INCOTERMS: International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)
  2. Glossary of Ocean Cargo Insurance Terms: Definitions of all terms related to cargo insurance
  3. Responsibility and Charges for various logistics operations as per INCOTERMS in Tabular Form (Schenker's website)\htm\arrival.htm&br=0
  4. International Trade Data System GLOSSARY: Official US Government glossary of international trade terms
  5. International Trade Terms Search Engine: Thorough glossary of international trade terms in search engine format.

Related Links:

Source: FAIDA - Newsletter on Business Opportunties from India and Abroad Vol: 3, Issue 2 April 11' 2002

Author : Dr. Amit K. Chatterjee
(Amit worked in blue-chip Indian and MNCs for 15 years in various capacities like Research and Information Analysis, Market Development, MIS, R&D Information Systems etc. before starting his e-commerce venture in 1997. The views expressed in this columns are of his own. He may be reached at )

� All Rights Reserved. Limited permission is granted to publish this article in a web-site or printed in a journal/ newspaper/ magazine provided the publisher takes prior permission from author, do not make any change in the article (i.e. keep it exactly same as displayed above) and cite the Source of this article as The Great Indian Bazaar with a link to this page.