An international agreement is concluded between states in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation.

A delegate attending an international conference at which a multilateral treaty is to be negotiated, needs to submit to the government or the organisation hosting it, a document known as ”credentials” issued by his state authorising him to represent it.

The document emanating from the competent authority of a State designating a person to represent the state in negotiating, adopting or authenticating the text of agreement.

Can be used either to become party to a treaty (normally bilateral treaties) or to express an intention to become a party to the treaty at a future date – subject to ratification or accession (normally multilateral treaties).

Used interchangeably with accession/ratification – applicable for some states’ constitutional processes.

International agreements are made between subjects of international law, in particular between states, between states and international organisations and between international organisations. An international agreement made between states may be expressed to be made by heads of state, or on behalf of the states and their governments. South Africa does not conclude agreements between ministries. There is no difference in international law between an international agreement concluded on behalf of states and one concluded on behalf of governments, since an agreement entered into by a government binds the State, and changes of government will not affect its binding force. However, under some constitutions, it may be necessary or desirable to use the inter-state form when the provisions of the agreement need to be given full effect in domestic law.

In terms of the Constitution of South African 1996, provinces and local governments do not have the competency to conclude international agreements. They may, however, conclude agreements with their counterparts in other countries.

It is sometimes necessary or desirable for states to conclude a non-legally binding arrangement between themselves. In this instance, a “Declaration of intent” is the instrument most frequently used. Such a declaration does not have comply with any of the requirements of an international agreement or with the constitutional procedures necessary for conclusion thereof.

As the name indicates, a Declaration of Intent merely serves to record the intention of the parties on some specific matters and to do more in future. Note that simply because a document is termed a “Declaration of Intent”, it does not necessarily mean that it is non-binding. The determining factor here is always the content of the document and not its name. It is thus imperative to understand whether the parties want to conclude a binding agreement or conclude a non-binding arrangement and to use the most appropriate designation. The title or designation is not an indication in its own right of the legal nature of the document concluded by the parties.

The results of an international meeting can also be reflected in minutes, joint communiqués, a final statement and even press briefings where both parties have to agree with the contents thereof but that would not be legally binding.

Initialling the text of an international agreement is commonly used as the means by which a text is adopted or authenticated. To avoid misunderstandings, consent to be bound should therefore not be expressed by initialling but as an indication that the text that is initialled is indeed the last version of the text discussed between the parties.

The way in which a state becomes party to a treaty, which it has signed/or which has not already entered into force. Most often used for multilateral treaties. The treaty will indicate when ratification is required. In most constitutional democracies, ratification will involve parliamentary approval.

The way in which a state becomes party to a treaty, which it has not previously signed/or to a treaty, which has already entered into force. Most often used for multilateral treaties. The treaty will indicate when accession is required. In most constitutional democracies ratification will involve parliamentary approval. The difference between ratification and accession is timing, but the procedure is the same.