Stefan Vogenauer: An Interview to his new publication

September 12, 2017

A recent volume, co-edited by Stefan Vogenauer and Rodrigo Momberg of the Catholic University of Valparaiso, analyses and contextualises the ‘Principles of Latin American Contract Law’. We had the chance to ask Professor Vogenauer about the details.

Q.: What are the ‘Principles of Latin American Contract Law’?

S. Vogenauer: They are new a set of provisions aiming at a regional harmonisation of contract law. A similar attempt was made on this side of the Atlantic with the ‘Principles of European Contract Law’ some 20 years ago. The basic idea is to have a common set of rules that parties to cross-border transactions can use, rather than having their contracts governed by a given national law, be it that of Argentina, Brazil or any other country. This is supposed to facilitate international trade and ultimately lead to economic growth, or so the proponents of private law harmonisation tell us.

Q.: In the work, you talk about a ‘set of provisions’ or a ‘set of rules’. What do you mean by that?

S. Vogenauer: Essentially, we are dealing with something that looks very much like a contract -law code or contract -law act in terms of scope and coverage: 111 articles covering all kinds of problems of general contract law, ranging from contractual formation to interpretation, performance and remedies for breach. However, it is not called a ‘Code’ or an ‘Act’ because it is not a piece of national legislation.

Q.: It’s not an obvious move for the director of an institute specialising in legal history to edit a book focusing, of all things, on the future of contract law. How did you approach this project?

S. Vogenauer: Fair point. But my co-editor and I share the view—the only sensible point of view, for a legal historian, I hasten to add—that a new legal instrument such as the ‘Principles’ does not simply fall out of the blue. It is a snapshot of contract law at a given moment in time that builds on prior developments and will evolve over time. This is why we made an extra effort to contextualise the ‘Principles’ within the broader tradition of Latin American laws and, even more broadly, in the so-called ‘civil law tradition’ that traces its roots back to ancient Roman law. So the volume contains three major historical essays that will also appear in the Institute’s research paper series on SSRN in a few weeks.

Q.: Who should read this book and why?

S. Vogenauer: Who? Well, everybody of course! And it has much to recommend it. First, it gives readers a unique insight into Latin American contract laws and, more broadly, into developments in Latin American private law in a language other than Spanish or Portuguese. It is hard to find information on these laws in English. Second, the book contains the only English-language translation of the Principles in print. Third, many people will be interested in how legal harmonisation works beyond the familiar European context.

Q.: What is your favourite thing about the book, apart from its content?

S. Vogenauer: I have very fond memories of the project leading up to it. It is based on contributions to one of the last conferences that I co-organised in my previous position as Director of the Oxford Institute of European and Comparative Law with my friend and then colleague Rodrigo Momberg, just a few weeks before I left for Frankfurt. What’s more, the book is the 24th volume in the series of that institute, which was established nearly 15 years ago. Many new series never really get off the ground, and it is great to see how this one continues to flourish. And finally, I have to admit that I enjoyed helping with translating the Spanish text of the ‘Principles’ into English, although I can’t speak Spanish and am not a native English speaker either! It is one of those examples that you can use as a father to convince your children to opt for Latin and French classes in school, but don’t be disappointed if your children answer that, as far as goals in life are concerned, translating 111 contract law provisions is not everyone’s cup of tea...

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