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Key Takeaways

  • An agreement is a legally binding document that outlines the terms and conditions of a relationship between two or more parties, while an MOU is a non-binding document that clarifies the intentions of the parties involved and provides a framework for further negotiations.
  • A contract, as per the Indian Contract Act of 1872, is a legally enforceable agreement that requires certain elements such as competency of the parties, consideration, and voluntary consent. Similarly, when it comes to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), it is crucial to carefully examine its language, the involved parties, and the specified conditions.
  • MOUs and agreements have become vital tools for fostering connections and addressing the complexities of our interconnected world. Examples include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for trilateral trade, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for global infrastructure development, the UAE-UNESCO MOU for cultural heritage preservation, and the India-UAE MOU for educational cooperation. 
  • Despite the fact that MOUs and agreements promote international cooperation, they may also present implementation and accountability problems. Language, goals, monitoring procedures, resources, and support must be unambiguous for effectiveness 


In a variety of situations, including economic partnerships, foreign diplomacy, and legal concerns, the development and characterization of relationships between parties is crucial. In such cases, the phrases "agreement" and "memorandum of understanding" (MOU)" come into play. We may obtain a thorough understanding of the functions and significance of agreements and MOUs in forming connections between parties by looking at their essential characteristics, legal ramifications, and intended aims. 

Agreement is a legally binding document that establishes the specific terms and conditions governing a relationship between two or more parties. 

MOU is a non-binding document that outlines the general terms and understanding of a relationship between two or more parties. While an MOU lacks the legal enforceability of an agreement, it can assist in clarifying the intentions of the parties involved and provide a framework for further negotiations.

The Significance of their Role

Several scenarios where an MOU might be used:

  • Business Partnerships: When two firms are thinking about forming a partnership or joint venture, they could draught an MOU outlining their areas of collaboration, their responsibilities, and the overall goals of the relationship. 
  • Collaborations in research: Academic institutions or research organisations frequently use MOUs to formally contract with other organisations or business partners. The MOU would outline the research's scope, the parties' respective intellectual property rights, and how resources and expertise would be shared.
  • Partnerships between NGOs: MOUs may be used by non-profit organisations to work together on community development projects, humanitarian causes, or advocacy campaigns. It would specify each organization's roles and responsibilities, the resources to be contributed, and the desired results.

Situations in which agreements might be drawn up:

  • Agreements can be used by landlords and renters to specify the conditions of their arrangement when renting or leasing property. These contracts explain the terms of the tenancy, including the rent, length, who is responsible for upkeep, and any other obligations that both parties must uphold.
  • Parties may sign NDAs in circumstances where it is necessary to communicate sensitive information, such as during business partnerships, mergers, or collaborations. These contracts create a contractual requirement for the receiving party to maintain the confidentiality of the disclosed information.
  • To create a legal framework for international relations, nations employ agreements, commonly referred to as treaties. These agreements could address a variety of issues, such as trade, defence, environmental laws, human rights, and more.

Collaborative Understanding under  Indian Contracts

According to Section 2(h) of the Indian Contract Act, an agreement turns into a contract once it may be enforced by the law. In other terms, a contract is an agreement that the legal system will uphold. Section 10 of the Indian Contract Act of 1872 specifies the circumstances under which a contract shall take effect.

While every contract is indeed an agreement, not every agreement qualifies as a contract. In order for a contract to be deemed valid, certain crucial conditions must be satisfied. Firstly, there must be some form of consideration involved (Section 25) . Secondly, the parties involved must possess the necessary competence to enter into a contract ( Section 11 and 12).

 Furthermore, the existence of mutual consent between the parties is imperative, and such consent must be freely given. 

For instance - In Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt (1913) [ 11ALJ 489 ], the court decided that an offer must be communicated in order for acceptance to be considered lawful. It was decided that someone cannot be deemed to have accepted an offer if they act after becoming unaware of it.

The object of the contract must also adhere to the boundaries of legality. Lastly, it is essential that the agreement is not explicitly declared to be void. 

The Supreme Court of India has ruled that the nomenclature and description of an agreement are irrelevant to the real nature of the document or transaction. Therefore a Memorandum of Understanding embodies the understanding of parties with respect to a particular transaction or project, but the mere existence of a document does not necessarily lead to the conclusion of a contract. Parties should consider whether an MOU is an informal agreement or a complete contract to create legal relations. For example in-

Union of India v. Reliance Industries Ltd. (2014) [7 SCC 603], an MOU between Reliance Industries and the government regarding the supply of natural gas was the subject of litigation before the Indian Supreme Court. The court ruled that if an MOU is only a declaration of purpose or a tentative agreement, it might not be legally binding. However, a contract may be enforceable if the parties show that they intended to establish legal relations and complete its fundamental requirements.

Hence it’s crucial to thoroughly examine the language, parties involved, and provisions within a Memorandum of Understanding. The specific wording used, including the presence of terms like "shall," can have non-binding implications.

A World wide View

MOUs and agreements, whether in the fields of politics, economics, the environment, or culture, have developed into crucial tools for negotiating the complexity of our linked world and forging fruitful connections between entities across international boundaries.


  • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trade pact that was signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico to establish a trilateral trading bloc. However, in 2020, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) took its place.
  • In light of the US CHIPS and Science Act and India's Semiconductor Mission, the MoU that India and the US signed on March 10th, 2023, aims to create a collaboration framework between the two governments on semiconductor supply chain resiliency and diversification. It aims to take advantage of the complementary characteristics of both nations, open up business opportunities, and promote the growth of semiconductor innovation ecosystems.


  • China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a worldwide infrastructure development and investment initiative designed to improve connectivity and foster economic cooperation throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and beyond. To expedite infrastructure development, trade, and investment, China has signed multiple bilateral agreements with participating nations.
  • After China gave India hydrological data on the Yaluzangbu/Brahmaputra River during the flood season in 2002, the government of India signed an MoU with China for five years. According to the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding, the Chinese side regularly provides hydrological data (water level, discharge, and rainfall) to Indian authorities from 15 May to 15 October each year. Further MoU renewals in this regard occurred in 2008, 2013 and 2018.


  • In order to encourage the preservation and protection of cultural heritage sites, the UAE and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) inked an MOU in 2019. The agreement was made in order to encourage cooperative projects for the preservation of historic places and the advancement of cultural diversity.
  • The MoU signed between India and UAE in 2022 aimed to increase educational cooperation, facilitate exchange of information, and promote mutual recognition of qualifications. It would be valid for five years and automatically renewable with consent from both parties. Once signed, the MoU will supersede the earlier one signed in 2015, which will no longer have effect.


Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) and agreements are important instruments for fostering cooperation and collaboration between nations and organizations worldwide. They provide a roadmap for countries to enhance their commercial ties, facilitate market access, and encourage cross-border investments. However, they can also lead to implementation challenges and lack of accountability. To maximize the effectiveness of MOUs and agreements, clear and concise language should be used, parties should ensure that the terms and objectives are well-defined, measurable, and achievable, and regular monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be established. Both should be supported by adequate resources, including funding, technical expertise, and capacity-building initiatives, to enable successful implementation.


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