Korean Jurisdictional and Choice of Law Issues in Commercial Agency & Distributor Agreements with Korean-based Agents & Distributors

In drafting and negotiating a Korean commercial agency agreement between a principal located in one country and an agent located in Korea, proper consideration needs to be given to the choices regarding the governing law and jurisdiction of such an agreement. If you are looking for an article on choice of law issues in Korean employment disputes, please see: Choice of Law Issues in Korean Employment Law Disputes. If you are looking for a basic overview of Korean Agency & Distribution Law please see: Korean Agency Law Basics.

Korean Jurisdictional Disputes in Agency Law Relationships
Korean Jurisdictional Disputes in Agency & Distribution Agreements

Choice of Law & Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction determines which country’s courts will hear any proceedings that may be brought in relation to the agreement, whilst governing law is the law that shall be applied by the courts hearing any such proceedings that may arise under the agreement.

Ideally, the parties to the agreement should expressly agree to a jurisdiction for the dispute and the governing law. A governing law clause shall set out the parties’ choice of the law that will apply to the parties’ agreement, and a jurisdiction clause shall set out the parties’ choice as to jurisdiction. These aforementioned clauses are – in general – considered by any courts (for the exemptions read below).

In the case that the principal is located in a country other than Korea and the agent is in Korea, then the principal might seek an agreement that, in the case of dispute or other proceedings that may arise between the parties, the law, and courts, of the country in which the principal resides, shall apply.

It can be expected, that, conversely, the Korean agent will likely wish to seek an agreement that the choice of governing law, and jurisdiction, shall be Korea. Good legal counsel will seek to negotiate an agreement that is most favorable to his or her own client. In some cases, neither the law of the country in which the principal is located nor the law of Korea may in fact be the best choice, and in such cases the parties may agree for their agreement to be governed by laws of a third country, specifying, for example, for English or New York law to apply.

Mandatory Provisions under Korean Law

Although the parties may expressly agree that their agency agreement shall be construed in accordance with the laws of a country other than Korea, certain “mandatory” provisions of Korean law have to be considered. These mandatory provisions can – for instance – be found in the Korean Enforcement Decree of the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act (Supreme Court Decision 2010Da8185 Decided August 26, 2010).

So, if a dispute or other proceeding in respect of the agreement were in fact brought before a Korean court, these mandatory provisions may nonetheless be applied by the court regardless of the choice of governing law specified in the agreement. Of these mandatory provisions, some shall be for the protection of commercial agents. Such provisions, simply, cannot be contracted out.

Consequences of No Choice of Law or Jurisdiction in an Agreement

If the parties’ agreement is silent as to jurisdiction and governing law then there is a risk, in the event of dispute or other proceedings later arising between the parties, of wasteful, costly, and time-consuming preliminary battle over which country’s courts ought to handle the matter and which set of laws ought to be used to interpret the parties’ obligations. Furthermore, the absence of a jurisdiction clause gives rise to a risk of multiple claims proceeding in parallel in more than one jurisdiction simultaneously.

Generally, if the governing law has not been expressly agreed to by the parties, then the applicable law will be the law of the country with the closest connection to the agency agreement. In the case that a principal is located in a country other than Korea and the agent is in Korea, the country with the closest connection to the agreement would most likely be Korea.

If jurisdiction has not been expressly agreed to by the parties then, ordinarily, proceedings against an agent located in Korea would be brought in the agent’s local court – provided that Korea were the country in which the agency agreement was being performed or ought to have been performed.

Alternatively, the parties may prefer to agree to resolve disputes by arbitration, in which case an arbitration clause will be included in the agreement. In most cases, IPG Legal recommends the use of arbitration in commercial agreements.

Carelessness as to governing law and jurisdiction in the drafting and negotiation of a commercial agency agreement between a principal located in a country other than Korea and an agent located in Korea or vice versa can lead to unintended or undesirable consequences.

Hence, our team of experienced and professional international lawyers is happy to review or draft an agent agreement for you, which fits best to your expectations and situation.

If you would like a no-cost consultation with an attorney at IPG Legal, please Schedule a Call with an attorney.

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