Government confirms continuation of COVID-era switch to electronic signatures for export licences

Government confirms continuation of COVID-era switch to electronic signatures for export licences
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Fri 19th Jan 2024

The government has said that a change introduced during the coronavirus pandemic to allow digital instead of "wet" signatures for documents required for export controls and licences will remain in place.

In April 2020, the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) announced that it would temporarily accept digital signatures due to people working from home and difficulties in getting in person signatures because of COVID-19.

But although it was originally a temporary move, a government notice sent to exporters in December 2023 confirmed that digital signatures will be accepted permanently.

The notice said:

"We no longer require "wet" signatures on any documents, including end user undertaking documents submitted to ECJU relating to export controls.

"We fully appreciate that electronic signatures come in many forms and formats and that they are only as secure as the business processes and technology used to create them. A digital or electronic signature is just as legally binding as a handwritten signature."

Commenting on the announcement, Kevin Shakespeare from the Institute of Export and International Trade, said:

"The UK has been taking various steps to digitalise trade procedures as part of its 2025 Border Strategy.

"This includes the passing into law of the Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA) in 2023, which gives digital versions of key trade documents the same legal footing as their paper equivalents.

"The recent announcement by the ECJU to continue to allow e-signatures for documents relating to export controls is another positive step and will be welcomed by the industry."

The Electronic Trade Documents Act amended 19th century regulations requiring documents needed for international trade to be paper-based.

The change put digital documents on the same legal footing as paper equivalents, with the aim of reducing the estimated 28.5bn paper trade documents printed and flown around the world daily.

It includes paperwork such as bills of lading - a contract between parties involved in shipping goods - and bills of exchange - used to help importers and exporters complete transactions.

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Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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