New rules on digitising international trade documents that amend 19th century regulations become law

New rules on digitising international trade documents that amend 19th century regulations become law
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Fri 28th Jul 2023

Changes that amend 19th century regulations requiring documents needed for international trade to be paper-based have received Royal Ascent.

The passing of the Electronic Trade Documents Act, first announced in the May 2022 Queen's Speech, means that digital documents are now on the same legal footing as paper equivalents.

The change, which applies in England and Wales, aims to reduce the estimated 28.5 billion paper trade documents printed and flown around the world daily.

The government said that the law could generate a net benefit of £1.14 billion for the British economy over the next 10 years, while World Economic Forum research found that digitising trade documents could reduce global carbon emissions from logistics by as much as 12%.

The Act covers documents such as bills of exchange, promissory notes, bills of lading and ships' delivery orders. They previously had to be paper-based due to longstanding laws like the Bills of Exchange Act 1882 and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992.

Paul Scully, minister for tech and the digital economy, said:

"The global container shipping industry generates billions of paper documents a year – and in reality there's no need for the immense costs UK businesses have to face in producing them, and the detrimental environmental impact that this has.

"What may look to many of us as a small change to the law is something that will have a massive impact on the way UK firms trade, and in turn, is going to boost our economy by over £1 billion over the next decade."

Chris Southworth, International Chamber of Commerce UK secretary general, added:

"The Electronic Trade Documents Act is a game changing piece of law not just for the UK but also for world trade.

"The Act will enable companies to finally remove all the paper and inefficiency that exists in trade today and ensure that future trade is far cheaper, faster, simpler and more sustainable.

"This presents a once in a generation opportunity to transform the trading system and help us drive much needed economic growth."


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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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