A Guide to International Trade and Letters of Credit:Sterling National Bank
A Guide to
International Trade and
Letters of Credit
Sterling National Bank
International Banking Division
500 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10018
copy right dedicated
1 Defining the Objectives Of Exporters and Importers
2 The Documents Of International Trade
3 Payment Alternatives In International Trade
4 The Letter Of Credit
5 Applying For A Letter Of Credit
6 Responsibilities Of The Exporter
7 Payment Requisites and Procedures
Exhibit 1 Commercial Invoice
Exhibit 2 Marine Bill of Lading
Exhibit 3 Air Waybill
Exhibit 4 Common Carrier Bill of Lading
Exhibit 5 Insurance Certificate
Exhibit 6 Draft
Exhibit 7 Bankers Acceptance
Exhibit 8 Letter of Credit
Most nations are unable to satisfy all their needs for raw materials, manufactured goods and services within the confines of their territorial borders.
Excesses as well as deficiencies have always existed throughout the world community, creating the need for world trade. Countless jobs and economic structures around the world depend on the ability of nations to trade actively in the international marketplace.
The trade cycle begins with the agreement to trade. When partners agree to trade,
merchandise is exchanged for payment. In the international marketplace, the exporter’s goals are to be assured of payment and to free capital invested in merchandise during shipping. For the importer, the guarantee of delivery of merchandise and the ability to defer payment are of paramount concern.
A sales contract should be written to cover the terms of sale. The arrangement for
Payment, however, relies to a great degree on the relationship between the trading partners. At the foundation of every international trading relationship is trust. In some cases, the level of trust between importer and exporter is based on an intimate knowledge gained through a history of successful transactions. In others, that trust is enhanced by the role of a bank as intermediary to the transaction and on adherence to universally accepted standards of trade. These standards call for the careful documentation of the title, movement and possession of the merchandise.
It is important to realize, however that the documents of trade do not provide protection
against fraud. The importer, therefore, should carefully evaluate the exporter’s reputation and have a clear understanding of the requirements detailed in the sales contract.
As a responsible third party to international trade, the bank expedites payment and handles the settlement process. The bank fills a vital role that may result from lack of
experience, geographic distance and market unfamiliarity.
In the 1900's, the need to establish standardized operating procedures in international transactions was recognized. This need brought about the establishment of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
Today exporters and importers continue to rely on principles of the ICC. These include the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (ICC) Publication No. 600, most recently revised in 2007 and the Uniform Rules for Collection Publication No.
522 revised in 1995. Central to many international trade transactions is the letter of credit, also known as a documentary credit. For centuries commercial letters of credit have been used by exporters and importers throughout the world to finance the exchange of goods and services. Commercial letters of credit are an important banking
service designed to meet the financing needs of both buyers and sellers. The letter of credit is a trade finance tool issued by a bank at the request of an importer. It guarantees payment to the exporter provided that he satisfies the conditions in the letter of credit.
The goals of international trade are best served when the mutual interests of exporters and importers are clearly defined and documented.
The Sales Contract
The sales contract is a written agreement covering the terms and conditions by which
the exporter will provide merchandise to the importer. As in any commercial transaction,
the sales contract, to which there is mutual agreement between the importer and the
exporter, details the terms of the sale of merchandise. A thorough and detailed sales
contract can minimize the concerns which frequently arise due to distance and lack of
familiarity between the exporter and the importer. From the exporter’s viewpoint, the
contract should stipulate the manner and time frame in which he will be paid for the
merchandise. The importer, on the other hand, seeks an assurance that he will receive
merchandise of the quantity and quality agreed to, and that he will be responsible for
rendering payment only upon the exporter's fulfillment of the stated obligations.
In entering into a sales contract, both exporter and importer will receive greater
protection if the sales contract clearly states the amount and currency of payment, the
method of payment, shipping arrangements, insurance protection, delivery terms, and
When a price is agreed upon, both parties to a transaction should understand what the
price includes. In addition to the cost of the merchandise, there should be agreement on
who will be responsible for the shipping and insurance costs.
The International Chamber of Commerce
Command of the vernacular of international trade is extremely important. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), a world business organization which
promotes freedom of world trade and seeks to facilitate business and trade practices, has
sought to define, simplify and standardize the terminology used in international banking.
The ICC has established universal shipping terms, known as Incoterms, to enhance the understanding between parties to international trade transactions. Among the
most common of these terms is Free On Board(FOB), which conveys an understanding that the exporter’s price includes all costs through the designated point at which the merchandise is loaded and shipped. The importer is responsible for paying all other costs such as freight and insurance from the designated point. However, when a price for
merchandise is stated CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight), it includes the exporter's cost of
merchandise as well as freight and insurance costs that are related to the delivery of the
merchandise through a named destination. Beyond these basic concerns, both exporters and importers frequently seek additional assurances from their trading partner. For the exporter, the ability to receive payment through a bank in his country is important, as is a guarantee of prompt payment. The importer also seeks the convenience of a local bank to extend credit and, when necessary, to finance the purchase. Both parties can benefit from the involvement of a bank seasoned in international trade to provide professional counsel in this complex field and facilitate the movement of documents and payments. The documents related to the movement of merchandise around the world provide the support and foundation for international trade. When the time arrives for an exporter to seek payment for merchandise sold, his receipt of payment will often rely not on the actual
shipment but on the supporting documentation. In order for payment to be made under
documentary collection or letter of credit methods, it is critical that the appropriate
documentation be properly prepared and presented by the exporter. The following section
is an overview of the most commonly used documents.
Commercial Invoice. The commercial invoice bills the merchandise to the importer. The invoice includes the description of the merchandise as stated in the contract, and confirms the delivery schedule and terms of sale. It should include the full names and addresses of both importer and exporter and be signed and dated by the exporter.
In the description of the merchandise weight and any pertinent shipping marks or numbers should be stipulated to permit comparison to other documents, thus ensuring consistency. Marks are internationally recognized symbols that facilitate the recognition of cargo.The marks are always included on the commercial invoice, the bill of lading and any other required documents. Unit and total price of the merchandise should also be stated on the invoice, as well as the terms of payment. If a letter of credit is being used, it is essential that the invoice describe the merchandise exactly as it is specified in the letter of credit.
Weight List. A weight list provides the customs authority in the importer's country with an itemized listing of the weight of each package or bale. In the case of bulk commodities, the weight is provided for the entire cargo. The weight list also provides gross, tare and net weights which usually represent the weight of the entire shipment. Gross weight is the total weight of the merchandise, including packing materials. Tare weight is the actual weight of the packing materials, while the net weight represents gross
weight less the tare weight.
Packing List. A packing list is usually required when merchandise is shipped in many containers or cases. It indicates the contents of individual parcels, thereby providing an inventory for the buyer. Like the weight list, a packing list provides the customs authority with an accurate description of the contents of each package in the shipment.
A transport document is a contract for the transport or carriage of the merchandise. It
confirms to the importer that the merchandise has been loaded, dispatched or taken in charge. It is issued by a carrier or a carrier’s agent. This document is considered to be one of the most important documents in international trade. The type of transport document that is required depends on the mode of shipment agreed to by the parties to the contract. The following transport documents are those most frequently used in international trade:
Bill of Lading. The bill of lading is one of the most commonly used transport documents that is issued by the carrier. This document details the agreement reached to transport merchandise and indicates consignment of the merchandise to a named party. A bill of lading can be issued in either a nonnegotiable or a negotiable form. In a nonnegotiable
form, a bill of lading is consigned to a named party. This type of consignment is known
as a straight consignment. A bill of lading issued in this manner is not considered a document of title to the merchandise, as is a negotiable bill of lading. In a negotiable form, consignment is “to the order of” a named party. Endorsement by the named party passes title of the merchandise to the holder of a negotiable bill of lading. The holder is entitled to take possession of the merchandise at the port of unloading after surrendering an original of this document. A bill of lading will also indicate the condition of the merchandise upon receipt by the carrier. A bill of lading in which the merchandise
is noted as either received for shipment or loaded on board with no apparent damage is commonly termed a “clean” bill of lading. A clean bill of lading is preferable because an independent party attests to the fact that the merchandise was received in apparent good order.
Marine Bill of Lading. A marine bill of lading is used when the mode of transport is an oceangoing vessel. This type of transport document provides information on the ports at which the merchandise will be loaded and unloaded, the identity of the intended vessel that will carry it and how freight charges will be paid. The consignee is specified, as well as the notify party. The notify party is the person to be contacted upon the vessel’s arrival at its designated port, and is typically the importer’s customs broker. The two most common categories of marine bills of lading are received for shipment and onboard. A received for shipment marine bill of lading indicates that the carrier has received the
merchandise and that the merchandise is scheduled for shipment on an intended vessel.
An on board marine bill of lading goes one step further. It attests that the merchandise has
actually been loaded on board a named vessel. Waybill. A waybill is a consignment note or
delivery order that is issued by the carrier or his agent. It includes much the same information as other types of transport documents. It is never issued in negotiable form.
Air Waybill. An air waybill is a consignment note or delivery order issued when the mode of transport is by air. Issued in non-negotiable form, it contains much the same information as other transport documents.
Combined Transport Document. A combined transport document is used when more than one mode of transport is involved. The combined transport document is issued only by a marine carrier and covers all aspects of transportation such as rail, truck, and ocean. Similar to a marine bill of lading, it lists the place of receipt and point of delivery. Additionally, this document specifies the other modes of transport used. It indicates
only receipt of goods rather than shipment on board.
Rail Consignment Note. A rail consignment note is used when the merchandise is transported by rail. This note identifies the names and addresses of the importer and exporter and provides for the stamps of the railroad stations of departure and
Common Carrier Bill of Lading. A common carrier bill of lading is typically used for the
inland carriage of merchandise by truck. It is usually a straight bill of lading issued in nonnegotiable form.
Insurance offers protection against the financial loss which may result from the risks to
which the merchandise may be exposed during shipment. The insurance policy and the
insurance certificate are the two most commonly used insurance documents. An insurance policy is a document prepared by an insurance company. An insurance certificate offers the same protection available through an insurance policy. It is, however, written by the exporter or the importer under a master policy issued by a contracted insurance company. To issue an insurance certificate, an exporter or importer must have a master insurance policy in effect. Insurance policies or certificates appropriate to the mode of transportation of the merchandise protect both the exporter and importer, as well as
any banks involved in financing the transaction. When a letter of credit is required as the method of payment, the policies or certificates must be issued in the exact form and coverage as stipulated in the letter of credit.
When designated as the method of payment, a letter of credit should define the
insurance requirements in conformance with the standards of the UCP. These requirements stipulate that the documents must be signed by the insurance company or underwriter or its agent rather than the broker, unless otherwise specified in the letter of credit. The type of insurance required and risks that will be covered must also be specified. The insurance company will not assume responsibility for risks not explicitly stated. The merchandise must be described exactly as defined in the related documents of trade, and the insurance coverage on the merchandise must equal the value of goods in the designated currency. The insurance policy or certificate must be dated on or before
the date of shipment, or demonstrate that coverage is effective from at least the date of
The insurance document may be written in a negotiable or non-negotiable form. If written in a negotiable form, the insurance document can be transferred.
The necessity for official documents varies in relation to the characteristics of the
merchandise, the requirements of the importer and the particular customs regulations of the country. Among the most common documents are the Certificate of Origin, the Certificate of Inspection, the Shippers Export Declaration and the Consular Invoice.
The Certificate of Origin. This document details the shipment and states the origin of the
merchandise. Most certificates of origin are issued by the exporter’s local chamber of
commerce and contain a sworn affidavit by the exporter indicating the origin of the merchandise.
The Certificate of Inspection. The certificate of inspection attests to the integrity of the
merchandise as specified in the contract. The inspection referred to in the certificate is usually country of export.
The Export License. This type of license is required for all goods exported from the United States with the exception of some items shipped to Canada. There are two types of export licenses: validated and general. A validated license is used for items controlled for export because of national security, shortage or considerations of foreign policy. A general export license covers most other items.
The Shipper’s Export Declaration. A declaration is required for all merchandise being exported from the United States. It shows the statistical information needed for balance of payment purposes and reports the type of export license used for the shipment. It is prepared by the exporter or his agent.
The Consular Invoice. The consular invoice organizes the information on the merchandise
being shipped and is issued by the consul of the importer in the exporter’s country. This
document assists in the tracking of merchandise entering the importer’s country and expedites clearance of the merchandise through customs. Other official documents may be required in order to complete international trade transactions and may differ from nation to nation.
A draft is not typically considered a trade document. It represents a demand for payment
by the exporter. A draft is drawn by the exporter on either the importer or the importer’s bank. The draft may demand payment at sight or at a specified future date. The method of payment agreed to in an international transaction is dependent upon a number of factors,
such as the trade reputations of exporter and importer, the competitiveness of the market, economic pressures, the degree of security each party seeks, and the foreign exchange regulations of each country. One of the principal factors on which the exporter and importer must agree when finalizing the terms of a sales contract is the method of payment. Geographical distance, in addition to differences in trade customs and
laws throughout the world, impose constraints regarding the means and timing of payment
which would not typically arise in domestic transactions. From among the payment
alternatives, each party must compromise his parochial interests to arrive at a mutually
agreeable method of payment. After all, the goal of both parties is to complete a transaction which offers a perceived benefit. The objective is to agree on a method of payment which will not place the transaction in jeopardy. Basically, four options for payment exist, each with relative advantages to both exporter and importer.
Clean Payment In Advance
This method of payment requires the importer to pay for the merchandise prior to its
shipment by the exporter. Insistence on clean payment in advance enables the exporter to
protect his interest when the reputation of the importer is a concern or when the exporter
needs to maintain a high degree of cash liquidity. The importer might also agree to this
method of payment when there is a strong market for the exporter’s merchandise; bowing
to competitive pressure, the importer may be faced with few alternatives. Clean payment in advance of shipment eliminates virtually all risks for the exporter beyond his assurance of the importer’s ability to cover a check drawn in payment, a potential problem which can be easily solved by insistence on a bank draft or funds transfer. On the other hand, it places the importer at a decided disadvantage in that he must pay for merchandise which may not be shipped on time or in good order or, in fact, at all. Even when
everything is proceeding smoothly, he has, in effect, extended credit to the exporter for the period of time that the merchandise is in shipment. The role of the bank when payment is made in advance is limited to the provision of credit checks and funds transfer for payment.
In this method of payment, the importer pays for the merchandise only upon receipt.
After the exporter has shipped the merchandise, the importer is billed and remits payment after receiving and inspecting the merchandise. An open account arrangement is usually
established when there exists a successful, ongoing trade relationship between the exporter and the importer. Payment may be made by a check drawn on the importer’s company or, preferably, by a bank draft or funds transfer. Open account payment favors the importer, and may occur when there are many suppliers of the product or limited demand for the item. The exporter bears the cost of the merchandise during shipping and the risk of delayed payment. If payment is not forthcoming as agreed, the exporter has few alternatives but to seek legal redress, always expensive and often difficult in a foreign country.
The role of the bank when payment is made on an open account is limited to providing credit checks and funds transfers for payment.
In this method of payment, the exporter draws a draft or bill of exchange directly on the
importer and presents it with required shipping documentation to his bank, the remitting bank, which then forwards it to another bank, the collecting bank, in the country of the importer for collection. In order to obtain the documentation for the merchandise, the
importer must provide payment or assurance of payment at a specified future date. When this is accomplished, the documents are released to the importer, who can then take possession of the merchandise. Documentary collection is a method of payment which affords greater protection to the exporter than an open account and less risk to the importer than clean payment in advance. It is used frequently when there is a relationship
of mutual trust between exporter and importer and when economic conditions in the importer’s country are stable enough to encourage a ready ability to pay on his part.
Under this method of payment, the role of the bank is of greater significance than in the
clean payment in advance or in the open account methods. The bank is responsible for
exchanging the exporter’s trade documents for the importer’s payment or the written promise of payment, which is commonly known as a “trade acceptance”.
Under the documentary collection method of payment, the bank acts as an agent, providing the exporter with a pre-formatted collection letter. In the letter, the exporter provides instructions for the bank in collecting the payment. Additionally, the exporter will list the documents and include instructions for protest. Protest is a legal process of demanding payment of a negotiable item from an importer who refuses to pay. The collection letter also includes instructions for the disposition of pertinent charges, and for the method of advice of payment or nonpayment. There are two documentary collection
methods--documents against payment (d/p) and documents against acceptance (d/a). In the documents against payment method, the exporter protects himself by not permitting the importer to obtain the documents until they are paid for. The exporter requests payment immediately from the importer by means of a draft drawn at sight. He does, however, hold himself open to the risk of reshipment, or return of merchandise to its point of origin, if the importer refuses to pay for the documents and take possession of the merchandise. The documents against acceptance method requires the exporter to release the documentation prior to receipt of payment. The exporter may agree to this method, for which he draws a time draft. It allows the importer to examine and sell the merchandise prior to making payment. The exporter extends credit to the importer for a specified period of time. Therefore, the exporter exposes himself to the risk of non-payment, should the importer be unable or unwilling to make payment.
In a documentary collection transaction, the remitting bank acts as agent for the exporter. The bank is responsible and, more importantly, liable only for releasing documentation to the collecting bank for payment or acceptance according to the exporter’s instructions. The exporter or, more typically, his bank will designate a collecting bank that is located in the importer’s country. Among trading partners whose reputations are known and respected, the documentary collection method affords both exporters and importers a relatively simple and inexpensive method of handling an international trade transaction. If, however, the exporter has any reason to question the importer’s readiness or willingness to pay, he must realize that the risk will be borne by him, not the bank.
Most countries have adopted the rules detailed in the ICC’s Uniform Rules for Collection Publication No. 522 and are conforming with them. One goal of this publication is to describe universally accepted collection guidelines for transacting international business.
Letter of Credit
A letter of credit is a bank’s commitment to an exporter to honor drafts and documents
presented in conformance with stated terms and conditions. When issuing a letter of credit, a bank substitutes its reputation and creditworthiness, which are well known and
respected in the marketplace, for that of the importer. At the request of the importer, a bank issues a letter of credit and assumes an obligation to pay the exporter contingent upon the presentation of stipulated documents within a prescribed period of time. For the exporter, the letter of credit adds the degree of security lacking in the documentary collection method of payment. Documentation must be presented in strict compliance with the conditions requested by the importer and detailed in the letter of credit.
These conditions, which are more fully addressed in a subsequent chapter, usually
include a description of the documents the bank is to receive from the exporter in exchange for payment, the timing of the receipt of such documents, whether or not partial shipments will be permitted, the mode of shipment and the expiration date of the letter of credit. As long as these terms are met, the bank has undertaken the responsibility for payment, regardless of the actions or abilities of the importer. As such, the letter of credit is a payment method that offers a unique and universally accepted means of satisfying the goals of both exporters and importers. Like a documentary collection, the letter of credit substitutes the acceptance of documentation for the actual receipt of merchandise, thus expediting payment to the exporter. The importer, on the other hand, may postpone payment until the merchandise is shipped. Unlike a documentary collection, a letter of credit usually involves a draft drawn on the bank, which promises payment to the exporter.
One of the many advantages of a letter of credit is its almost universal acceptance
throughout the world. This acceptance is enhanced by the industry’s utilization and conformity to the ICC’s Uniform Customs and Practices Publication No. 600 that governs letter of credit transactions.
It must be emphasized, however, that while a letter of credit can provide a number of
safeguards unavailable under other payment methods, it cannot protect the importer or the exporter against the risk of fraud. The bank issuing the letter of credit, as well as any other banks involved in the transaction, deals only in the face value of the documents of international trade. There is no verification of the actual merchandise prior to the acceptance of the documents and payment to the exporter. It remains incumbent upon the importer and the exporter, therefore, to carefully regard the reputation of the other and, if necessary, to evaluate the perceived benefit of trade with an unknown party.
A letter of credit can afford important advantages to both the exporter and the
importer that other payment methods cannot offer. In addition to the security of payment,
which does not depend upon the importer’s financial condition, the exporter can continue to control title to the merchandise until payment is actually made or the documents are accepted for payment. The importer, in turn, gains the advantage of time in making payment, doing so only when the documents providing shipment are presented
The letter of credit is a payment method that provides an increased level of security for both importers and exporters.
Types of Letters of Credit
Letters of credit may be either revocable or irrevocable and this difference must be
clearly indicated in the letter of credit to the exporter. According to the UCP, the absence of such an indication makes a letter of credit irrevocable. Both types oblige the issuing
bank to make payment according to the terms stipulated by the importer.
Both types of letter of credit can be issued either in a negotiable or a non-negotiable
form, also known as straight credits. Negotiability can be determined by reviewing
the engagement clause of the letter of credit. The engagement clause is the most important clause in this document, as it details the bank’s promise to pay. If this promise is extended to a named party, the letter of credit is considered non-negotiable. In a negotiable form, the bank’s promise to pay is extended to a named party, as well as to all bonafide holders and endorsers.
Revocable Letter of Credit. The revocable letter of credit may be amended or canceled by
the issuing bank without prior notice to the exporter, also known as the beneficiary. If,
however, the negotiation payment or acceptance has taken place at a bank designated in the letter of credit prior to the receipt of a cancellation or amendment, the issuing bank is bound to honor such payment, negotiation or acceptance as dictated by the
original terms of the letter of credit. Acting as agent for the importer, the bank will typically amend or cancel the revocable letter of credit only at the importer’s
instructions and in his interests. Prior notice of such changes to the exporter is not required; subsequently, the exporter is exposed to a relatively high degree of risk. This risk is one of the reasons why revocable letters of credit are infrequently used. The revocable letter of credit is used because it is less costly than an irrevocable letter of credit and, in comparison to other payment methods, it is faster and more convenient.
A revocable letter of credit may be appropriate in certain situations such as when
a successful history of trade with an importer already provides a high degree of security.
Intra company dealings in countries requiring letters of credit as a means of controlling their foreign exchange may also provide a cost effective method of payment.
Irrevocable Letter of Credit. The irrevocable letter of credit may not be amended or
canceled prior to the expiration of the credit without the consent of all parties. The
irrevocable letter of credit is more costly because, once issued, it cannot be changed
without the agreement of all parties. Due to this constraint, the irrevocable letter of credit
is more costly than the revocable letter of credit but more widely used. It serves as a fast
and convenient payment method for international trade. Additionally, the irrevocable letter of credit may be enhanced by the confirmation of a local bank in the exporter’s country. Confirmation is the term used when the local bank promises to make
payment to the exporter if he fulfills the requirements of the letter of credit. This
promise transfers existing risks from the country of the importer to the country of the
exporter. Usually, the additional costs incurred for confirmation are paid by the
Letter of Credit
Within the parameters of the two types of letters of credit, revocable and irrevocable,
there are a number of variations in the actual methods and timing of payment to the
exporter. The letter of credit will specify the manner in which payment is to be made, as
well as when payment is available, to the exporter. The availability of payment to the
exporter will be specified in the tenor of the letter of credit. The tenor of the letter of credit may be for payment at sight or payment at a specified future date.
Sight Letter of Credit. The letter of credit available at sight provides for the exporter to
be paid upon presentation to and examination by the bank of the documents. The exporter
draws a draft which is his demand for payment under the letter of credit on the bank,
with the tenor designated as sight. Under a letter of credit payable at sight, the exporter is paid by the bank once the bank has determined that the documents comply with the terms and conditions of the letter of credit. If the importer is not in a position to
reimburse the bank, it is of no consequence to the exporter. Payment at sight favors the exporter, enabling him to receive payment immediately.
The importer must evaluate his ability to finance this purchase without the benefit of
having time to sell the merchandise before remitting payment. If he is dependent on the
proceeds from the sale for the funds to pay the exporter, this would not present an attractive payment option.
Time Letter of Credit. The time, or usance, letter of credit provides for the exporter to
receive payment at a specified number of days following acceptance of the draft which he has drawn on the bank as his demand for payment under the letter of credit. The word
acceptance in the context of a time letter of credit means accepted for payment at a
specified future date. The number of days specified cannot exceed six months after sight.
Upon acceptance of the time draft, the bank’s liability for drawing under the letter of
credit has been satisfied and the draft becomes another instrument, the banker’s acceptance.Acceptance of the draft is the bank’s guarantee of payment at the specified future date. This guarantee of payment further encourages the exporter to permit the bank to release the documentation to the importer. The time draft implies the extension of
credit by the exporter, typically for a period ranging up to six months. Thus, it enables the
importer to gain possession of the merchandise and to resell it, if necessary, before payment is required. The time letter of credit places the exporter at somewhat of a disadvantage in that he must be prepared to fund the financing for the period of time which elapses before the importer is required to make payment. However, the opportunity exists for the exporter to convert the banker’s acceptance to cash by discounting the acceptance. Discounting an acceptance is the process whereby the bank purchases an accepted draft
at a value less than the original face value. This is possible because of the bank’s
commitment to pay at some specified future date, the Negotiability of the instrument and
the availability of a market to purchase this instrument as an investment.
Deferred Payment Letter of Credit. A deferred payment letter of credit entitles the exporter to be paid upon presentation of a sight draft at a future date. The tenor is specified in the letter of credit and the date is determined by the bank at the time when it receives the appropriate documentation. Deferred payment provides an alternative to the six month time restrictions placed on banker’s acceptances by Federal Reserve regulations in that the bank does not accept the draft of the exporter when the documents are presented. Deferred payment implies the extension of credit by the exporter to the importer for the elapsed time between presentation of the documents and payment. It is appropriate in certain markets where competitive conditions favor the interests of the importer. The distinction between payment by time draft and deferred payment is that the latter does not create a negotiable instrument through which the exporter can obtain funds
prior to the stipulated date of payment. When the bank accepts the exporter’s time draft, it has created another instrument, the banker’s acceptance, which may be discounted. Under the terms of deferred payment, the bank extends its commitment to pay the sight draft at a specified future date. The opportunity does exist, however, to obtain an advance
(loan) on this commitment. Before agreeing to the terms of a deferred payment letter of credit, an exporter should evaluate his ability to wait for a prolonged period before payment, typically more than six months, after he has relinquished title to the merchandise.
Settlement by Negotiation. Settlement by negotiation entitles the exporter to present the
required documents to a bank in his locale, which will buy a draft and documents drawn
on the issuing bank or advance funds against the draft with the intention of obtaining
reimbursement from the issuing bank. Settlement by negotiation affords protection to an exporter who must rely on the mails to deliver documentation prior to the
expiration of the letter of credit. For example, a foreign exporter need only present the
appropriate documentation to a local bank by the expiration date to comply with the terms
of the letter of credit. Although the local bank must then forward the documents to the
confirming or issuing bank, it is not necessary for them to arrive by the expiration date to
entitle the exporter to payment. Under the terms of settlement by negotiation, the negotiating bank makes payment with recourse to the exporter until it has received payment from the confirming or issuing bank. Settlement by negotiation with recourse to the exporter permits the negotiating bank to seek reimbursements from the exporter if the issuing bank refuses to honor the draft due to discrepancies in documentation. If this occurs, the exporter must reimburse the local bank for any funds received. Subsequently, the exporter may correct and resubmit documents within the validity of the credit.
Letter of Credit Adaptations
Adaptations to the basic letter of credit can address special considerations, rendering
it again the most flexible and most advantageous payment method available in
international trade. Among the special letters of credit available, is the revolving letter of credit, in which the bank, with qualifications as to time and value, agrees to regularly reinstate the credit without the need to amend the original letter of credit. It is used to control the shipment schedule of the entire transaction. The merchandise to be shipped is divided into a series of shipments of equal value. As a result, the overall financial impact is lessened. The two types of revolving credits are cumulative and non-cumulative. When a revolving credit is cumulative, merchandise that was scheduled for shipping in previous
periods may be included in other shipping periods. The value of the delayed and shipped
merchandise is also carried forward to the time of actual shipment. A non-cumulative
revolving credit prohibits any merchandise not shipped in the required period, as well as
its value, to be carried forward to other shipping periods. Other adaptations to the basic letter of credit include the red-clause credit, which enables the exporter to receive an advance on the total payment prior to the presentation of the documents, and the transferrable credit, which enable the exporter who acts as agent or middle-man for a supplier to transfer a credit in its entirety or in part to a third party.
Assignment of proceeds is another payment option that permits the beneficiary to
designate that all or part of the proceeds from a payment under a letter of credit be paid
directly to a designated party by the paying bank. This payment option can be used
whether or not the letter of credit is transferrable. An exporter acting as a middleman can
use a letter of credit issued in his favor at the importer’s request as “security” to facilitate
the issuance of a second letter of credit. The second letter of credit is used to pay his supplier and obtain the merchandise. This is called a back-to-back letter of credit.
A standby letter of credit acts as a secondary source of payment and is not typically drawn against unless the primary source of payment fails. The issuance of a standby letter of credit may permit the importer the luxury of doing business with the exporter on an open account basis. The exporter has the comfort of knowing that if he does not receive payment directly from the importer he can draw under the letter of credit. The importer benefits because the cost of doing business has been reduced as a result of not having to pay the charges associated with the commercial letter of credit.
The Role of the Bank
The bank’s role in issuing a letter of credit is a serious undertaking. Once issued, a letter
of credit becomes a contingent liability of the bank. The bank will make payment to the
exporter if the documents are found to be in good order regardless of the current or future
situation of the importer or the status of the merchandise. Under the letter of credit, the
role of the issuing bank is to extend credit to the importer, in favor of the exporter as
beneficiary. Additionally, the issuing bank reviews the documents presented for compliance with the credit and, if in compliance, makes payment.
When a second bank is asked to act in an advising capacity, it forwards the letter of
credit to the exporter without accepting any responsibility to pay, even if authorized to do
so. When confirmation enhances the bank’s advising process, an exporter can justifiably
expect to be able to present his documentation to that bank and receive payment. The exporter’s best assurance of payment is his careful analysis of his ability to ensure shipment of the merchandise and to comply with the terms and conditions of the letter of credit.
Shipping the Merchandise
Once a letter of credit has been issued by the importer’s bank and reviewed by the exporter, the merchandise can then be shipped. Again, it is important for the exporter to make sure he can comply with the terms of the letter of credit regarding shipment at this point; it will only delay payment if he discovers he has not complied fully when he submits his documentation for payment. If he is satisfied that the terms of the letter of credit agree with the contract, the exporter will deliver the merchandise to the carrier. Both the sales contract and the letter of credit should stipulate the manner in which the merchandise is to be packed, as well as any necessary markings which are to be included.
Presentation of the Documents
Having shipped the merchandise, the exporter should compare the documentation
to the following checklist before submitting it to the bank.
Letter of Credit Checklist.
Are all required documents included?
Will the documents be presented within the expiration date of the letter of credit?
Are the documents on their face consistent with each other?
Has shipment been made prior to the last shipping date?
Are the documents “stale”? Typically, unless otherwise specified, documents
presented 21 days or more after the date of transport are considered stale.
Are the required number of copies of each document being submitted?
On documents where signatures are required, are the appropriate signatures
Is the transport document consigned to the correct party?
Is the notify party on the transport document correct?
Is the merchandise description correct?
Are the number of units, the unit price and the total price all consistent?
If an insurance document is required, is the type and amount of coverage correct?
Was it in effect prior to shipment?
If partial shipment has been made, is it permitted under the terms of the letter of
If transshipment is necessary, does the letter of credit permit this?
Review the draft. Does it quote the bank’s letter of credit reference? Is it drawn on the correct party? If necessary, has it been properly signed and endorsed? Is the amount and currency correct? Is the tenor as specified?
Once these questions have been answered satisfactorily, the exporter can present the required documents along with his draft to the bank for payment, negotiation or
acceptance. The bank will examine the documents to verify that they conform to the
conditions of the letter of credit. Each bank in the negotiation and payment process is
responsible for its own review of the documents. In addition to assuring verification of the documents in relation to the letter of credit, the banks must make sure that the documents comply with UCP guidelines. Upon completion of a satisfactory review of the documents, the bank can pay, accept or negotiate.
The Role of the Advising and Confirming Bank
The exporter may choose to present the necessary documents and draft to his bank,
the advising bank, or the advising and confirming bank in his country. Upon its review of the documents, the bank will pay the exporter and forward the documents to the issuing bank for payment. As a negotiating bank, the bank negotiates the letter of credit
with recourse to the exporter. However, when“ adding” the bank’s confirmation, the bank
must be mindful of the obligation it assumed. That is, it has agreed to pay, accept or
negotiate the letter of credit without recourse upon acceptance of the documents.
When the bank “adds” its confirmation, it is guaranteeing that payment will be made
upon presentation of the documents as required by the letter of credit. “Adding” the bank’s confirmation transfers the risk of payment from the country of the issuing bank to the country of the exporter. In cases where the letter of credit was paid by the confirming bank, the bank will obtain reimbursement from the issuing bank or, sometimes, through a third bank authorized by the issuing bank to do so. This bank is called the reimbursing bank.
The Role of the Reimbursing Bank
The issuing bank may authorize another bank, the reimbursing bank, to provide reimbursement on its behalf for a drawing under the letter of credit. This bank will provide payment to which the paying, accepting or negotiating bank is entitled. This situation may occur when a bank issues a letter of credit in favor of a beneficiary located in a country where no correspondent bank account relationship exists. The issuing bank will authorize the paying bank, located in the exporter’s country, to reimburse on another bank.
Today banks are increasingly directing all letter of credit payments to one correspondent bank or a select number of correspondent banks to eliminate the need for maintaining large balances at numerous financial institutions.
Although the reimbursing bank is authorized to act on behalf of the issuing bank, the responsibility for payment of the draft remains with the issuing bank.
Documents related to the transaction are usually forwarded directly from the paying
bank to the issuing bank, with no intervention by the reimbursing bank. The reimbursing bank is not liable for payment of the draft or any loss of interest to the beneficiary which may result from the reimbursing bank’s refusal to pay at first demand.
When the issuing bank has reviewed the documents, it will typically make payment
and simultaneously debit the account of the importer. Upon receipt of payment from the
importer, or extension of credit to him by the bank, the documents are released to him. The importer will make arrangements with a customs broker for the formal entry of and
payment of duty on his merchandise, if applicable. The bank is relieved of its liability
under the letter of credit once payment is made.
If, however, the importer is unable to pay the bank, the bank can take possession of the
merchandise if it holds the bills of lading in negotiable form. It is for this reason that the
bank may specify as a condition of the letter of credit that documents be issued in negotiable form.
Discrepancies in Documentation
One of the principal catalysts encouraging the exporter to assure the accuracy of the documents before presentation is the financial risk he assumes if the documents are not presented as specified in the letter of credit. Additional fees may be assessed by the bank on the discrepant documents to cover additional processing time. If the documents cannot be corrected, the exporter may also risk shipping merchandise for which the importer will not agree to accept or pay. These costs, coupled with incidental fees such as interest due on financing provided prior to payment and telecommunication fees, can seriously affect
the exporter’s profit margin. Minor discrepancies discovered by the bank, such as incorrect number of copies of a document, can be easily rectified. However, since the bank cannot alter documents as presented, major discrepancies, such as description of merchandise in the commercial invoice which differs from the description provided in the letter of credit, can be sufficient cause for the bank to refuse payment. Such major discrepancies can be remedied through a number of courses of action. The bank can return the documents to the exporter for correction and re-submission within the validity of the credit and prior to the point in the time at which the documents become stale. Or, the paying bank may request the authority from the issuing bank to pay, accept or negotiate the letter of credit with the noted discrepancies. The bank can also call for
an indemnity from the beneficiary or from a bank to pay, accept or negotiate with the
assurance that payment, including interest and other charges, will be refunded if the issuing bank refuses to provide reimbursement against the discrepant documents.
Discrepancies in documentation will typically be referred to the importer, who may
accept minor deviations in order to receive the merchandise. Often, such acceptance may be required in writing by the bank. The importer is, however within his rights to refuse to
permit any deviation from the terms and conditions of the letter of credit; he may refuse
to pay the bank even if the bank, overlooking a discrepancy, has already honored the credit.
Should this occur, the importer is, of course, not entitled to the merchandise and must
return the documents.
Letter of Credit Costs
Typically, the charges assessed by the issuing bank associated with the letter of credit
are borne by the importer and the costs assessed by the advising, advising and
confirming, or negotiating bank are paid by the exporter, unless otherwise specified in the
letter of credit. Among these charges are the commissions assessed by the issuing bank for issuing the letters of credit and an advising charge representing transmission of the credit to the exporter that will be assessed by the advising bank. In the case of a confirmed letter of credit, a commission is charged quarterly for the transfer of the credit risk to the exporter’s country. A fee will be incurred for any amendments to the original language in the letter of credit. A charge will also be incurred for discrepancies in documents that have been presented. When a credit is negotiated or paid, a payment commission will be assessed for examining the documentation and making payment. An acceptance or a deferred payment commission will be charged for the duration of the financing period of any time drafts associated with the letter of credit.
Discounting an acceptance will also result in additional interest expenses. Other incidental costs may be incurred for transmittals of telecommunication messages, courier services and postage. If no correspondent bank account relationship exists and a reimbursing bank is designated, The reimbursing bank will also assess a charge for providing reimbursement.