Robert Moss on the practical problems of EU trade agreements

The GATT agreement and the lifting of trade restraints in the European Union is a major opportunity for UK companies to expand their export markets. However it has long been recognised that it is one thing to be able to sell goods abroad, it is another to be able to recover the price of those goods.

To combat this problem there are now many treaties which provide for the enforcement of judgment of the courts of one country in another. The most notable are the Brussels and Lugano conventions.

Sadly, many of the UK's trading partners still do not have such reciprocal agreements – most notably the US. And even where there are treaties in place the practice often defeats the theory.

It should be as simple and speedy to enforce a UK judgment in any European Union Member State as it is in England and Wales. In fact, it will often take many months to satisfy foreign courts of the legitimacy of a judgment and then enable that judgment to be enforced. There are three possible answers to this problem:

* Do not trade with anyone outside England and Wales. An insular approach, but one that avoids all the problems.

* Simply ignore the treaties and issue proceedings in the foreign debtor's own country.

However, as few lawyers have offices throughout the world this means having to use local lawyers. The consequence to the client is increased costs and delays in recovering what is rightfully his. However, it is quicker than relying on treaties.

* The establishment of an EU Trade Court whereby proceedings could be instigated under one uniform legal jurisdiction which would have immediate effect within all other states of the Union. We would have one system which would govern the issue of proceedings and obtaining judgment and enforcing that judgment whether those proceedings were issued in England and Wales, Italy, France, Spain or any other member state.

Language is another potential problem. To overcome this perhaps we should have one official court language so that there could then be no confusion over translation. Imagine how the Europhobes would react to that. However, the ancient Romans never seemed to have any problem in enforcing their judgments, so perhaps we should revert to Latin.

Robert Moss is head of commercial litigation at Vaudrey Osborne & Mellor.