1979 Secretariat Commentary

After UNCITRAL, at its eleventh session held in New York in June 1978, had approved the draft text of the future CISG (the 'New York Draft'), it requested the Secretary-General of the UN '[t]o prepare, under his own authority, a commentary on the provisions of the draft Convention'.

The resulting article-by-article commentary on the 1978 draft text of the Convention was written by members of the UNCITRAL Secretariat, primarily by Eric Bergsten. It was published on 14 March 1979 and became commonly known as the 'Secretariat Commentary'.

Commentary on the Draft Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, prepared by the Secretariat, UN Doc. A/CONF.97/5, published in the Official Records, pp 14–66

The Secretariat Commentary was among the material made available to the delegates at the 1980 Vienna Diplomatic Conference and thereby significantly influenced the negotiations about the Convention's final text.

The fact that the Secretariat Commentary is a commentary on the 1978 draft text of the Convention, not the Convention's final text as adopted 1980 in Vienna, means that the numbering of the provisions therein partially differs from the article numbers in today's CISG. The Secretariat Commentary furthermore does not cover all provisions of the CISG: It contains no commentary at all on the 'Final Provisions' in Part IV of the CISG (Arts. 89–101 CISG), and is also missing some provisions in Parts I–III that were only added during the Vienna Diplomatic Conference (as, for example, Art. 5 CISG). Last but not least, some draft provisions covered in the Secretariat Commentary were subsequently modified during the discussions at the 1980 Diplomatic Conference, making it necessary to carefully check whether these modifications affect the usefulness of the respective parts of the Secretariat Commentary.

Courts applying the CISG have relied and continue to rely on the Secretariat's Commentary in interpreting provisions of the Convention. For an example, see the decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in Alpha Prime Development Co. v. Holland Loader Co., 6 July 2010, CISG-online 2111, the decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Zodiac Seats US LLC v. Synergy Aerospace Corp., 23 April 2019, CISG-online 4234, or the Swiss Supreme Court's decision in the Electronic electricity meters case, 28 May 2019, CISG-online 4463.

For a more detailed discussion of the Secretariat Commentary, see furthermore:

Peter Winship, 'A Note on the Commentary of the 1980 Vienna Convention', 18 International Lawyer (Int'l Law.) (1984), 37–38 [– in English]  
Francesco G. Mazzotta & Vikki M. Rogers, 'The CISG “Secretariat Commentary“: Has it Stood the Test of Time?', in: Stefan Kröll, Loukas A. Mistelis, Pilar Perales Viscasillas & Vikki M. Rogers (eds.), International Arbitration and International Commercial Law - Synergy, Convergence and Evolution: Liber Amicorum Eric Bergsten on the Occasion of his Eightieth Birthday, Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International (2011), 613–630 [– in English]