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Incoterm 2020 Guide

In an increasingly interconnected global economy, understanding the rules that regulate international trade is paramount. Among these, Incoterms 2020—short for International Commercial Terms—stand out as the standardized framework that helps businesses transact smoothly across borders. Published by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), these terms serve as the foundation for global trade, clarifying roles, risks, and responsibilities from the moment a deal is initiated. This article offers a comprehensive guide to all the Incoterms as outlined in the 2020 update, its latest version.

World map with trade routes and transportation method

Incorporating Incoterms into your business dealings isn’t just a best practice; it’s a strategy to ensure clarity and minimize misunderstandings. The terminology creates a standardized language that traders around the globe understand, reducing the likelihood of disputes or legal complications. Moreover, having a set of recognized terms helps parties outline their obligations, offering both sides a clearer sense of what to expect in terms of costs, risks, and responsibilities. By adopting Incoterms, you don’t just make life easier for yourself; you also build trust with your trading partners by showing that you adhere to globally recognized standards.

Incoterms originated as a collaborative effort to streamline global trade and remove ambiguity in commercial transactions across international borders. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), a Paris-based global organization, first introduced them in 1936. Over the decades, these terms have gone through multiple revisions to keep pace with the changing dynamics of global commerce. From the expansion of shipping routes to the advent of digital technology, each update has been an attempt to adapt to contemporary challenges in international trade. The most recent version, Incoterms 2020, reflects the intricate realities of modern supply chains, accommodating new security requirements and allowing for greater flexibility in transport arrangements.

Incoterms timeline from 1936 to 2020
4 categories of Incoterms

Incoterms are generally sorted into four categories—E, F, C, and D—to make it easier to choose the most appropriate term for a particular transaction. Group E is a single term focusing on goods made ready for pickup at the seller’s location. The next set, Group F, comprises terms in which the seller has the responsibility for the delivery of the goods to a carrier, but not beyond. Group C terms include situations where the seller covers the cost of shipping to a destination but transfers the risk before arrival. Finally, Group D lays out terms where the seller bears almost all responsibilities, delivering the goods to a location selected by the buyer. Each group reflects the extent of responsibility the seller takes on, ranging from minimal to substantial.

Ex Works (EXW)

  • How it works: The seller makes the goods available for pickup at their premises or another named place. All responsibility for costs and risks moves to the buyer once the goods are made available.
  • Transport: All modes of transport.
Goods are available for seller to pick up
Goods loaded on carrier's vehicle
goods loaded on ship by the port
goods on ship's deck, sea and inland waterway

Free Carrier (FCA)

  • How it works: The seller delivers the goods, cleared for export, to a carrier chosen by the buyer at a named place. The place can be the seller’s premises or another location specified by the buyer.
  • Transport: All modes of transport.

Free Alongside Ship (FAS)

  • How it works: The seller places the goods next to a ship at a nominated port, clearing them for export. All subsequent responsibilities, including loading costs, are on the buyer.
  • Transport: Sea and inland waterway only.

Free On Board (FOB)

  • How it works: The seller loads the goods onto a ship specified by the buyer. Costs and risks are transferred to the buyer once the goods are on board.
  • Transport: Sea and inland waterway only.

Cost and Freight (CFR)

  • How it works: The seller arranges and pays for the transport of the goods to a named destination port but doesn’t cover the risk of loss or damage that happens after the goods are on board.
  • Transport: Sea and inland waterway only.

Cost, Insurance, and Freight (CIF)

  • How it works: This incoterm resembles CFR, but here, the seller is also responsible for providing insurance coverage for the goods until the point at which they reach the named port of destination.
  • Transport: Sea and inland waterway only.
pay for transportation at port, CFR
seller contains cargo insurance, CIF
seller deliver and unload goods, DAP
seller deliver and unload goods at destination agreed by both parties, DPU
seller pays duties, taxes, and other charges, DDP

Delivered at Place (DAP)

  • How it works: The seller covers all costs and risks until the goods are available for unloading at a destination specified by the buyer.
  • Transport: All modes of transport.

Delivered at Place Unloaded (DPU)

  • How it works: The seller delivers and unloads the goods at a place agreed upon by both parties. This term replaced Delivered At Terminal (DAT) in Incoterms 2020.
  • Transport: All modes of transport.

Delivered Duty Paid (DDP)

  • How it works: The seller assumes all responsibilities, including duties, taxes, and other charges, until the goods are ready for use at the named place of destination.
  • Transport: All modes of transport.

Changes from Incoterms 2010 to 2020 were not mere tweaks; they aimed to adapt the terms to modern trade challenges and logistics. One noticeable change was the renaming of Delivered At Terminal (DAT) to Delivered at Place Unloaded (DPU), emphasizing the place of delivery rather than the type of location. Additionally, Incoterms 2020 includes more detailed security requirements and offers greater clarity on the obligations related to transport costs, a frequent subject of dispute. The 2020 version also incorporates provisions for own transport—where the buyer or the seller transports the goods themselves—which was not explicitly covered in the 2010 version.

Evolution of incoterms from 2010 to 2020

Given the assortment of terms and groups, it’s essential to make a thoughtful selection tailored to your specific transaction. For starters, consider the level of control you wish to maintain throughout the shipping process. If you’re a seller who wants to handle only the initial stages, terms like EXW or FCA may be preferable. On the flip side, if you want to take on more responsibilities and offer an almost door-to-door service, terms like DAP or DDP may be more suitable. Additionally, consider the familiarity and trust level between trading parties. For instance, more balanced terms like FOB or CIF might be best when both parties have comparable levels of experience and resources. Your selection can often serve as a negotiation point, helping to establish a more balanced and fair trading relationship.

tips on how to pick the right incoterms

Tips for Selecting the Right Incoterm

  1. Assess Your Capabilities: Gauge your logistical capacities and choose terms that align with them.
  2. Understand Your Partner: Your choice might vary depending on the experience and resources of your trading partner.
  3. Cost-Risk Balance: Choose terms that offer a balanced distribution of costs and risks.
  4. Local Legislation: Make sure to consult local import and export regulations before finalizing your terms.

Incoterms 2020 provides a comprehensive set of rules designed for the contemporary landscape of international trade. By understanding these terms and applying them appropriately, companies can safeguard their interests, eliminate ambiguity, and engage in more efficient and effective global trade operations.

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