ICC: what the Future International Trade Alliance means for shippers

The Future International Trade (FIT) Alliance was formed by DCSA, FIATA, BIMCO, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and SWIFT, with a signed memorandum of understanding to standardise the digitalisation of international trade.

We spoke with representatives of the FIT Alliance to discover what its aims mean to them and the organisations they represent. You can read the thoughts of Thomas Bagge, DCSA CEO, Grant Hunter, Director for Standards, Innovation and Research, BIMCO and Stéphane Graber, director general of FIATA.

In this article, we hear from John W.H. Denton, ICC Secretary General. We began by asking John:

Why did the ICC join the FIT Alliance?

John (J): ICC represents more than 45 million companies in over 100 countries and our business mission is to make business work for everyone, every day, everywhere. Living up to that means finding ways to make international trade less complex than it currently is.

My commitment is to take trade from analogue to digital. Through the FIT Alliance, we’re collaborating with lots of industry players to create and accelerate the adoption of digital standards that will make international shipping dramatically simpler, secure and, we hope, seamless. That will drive a sea change in companies’ productivity and business models to help businesses unleash benefits at an ecosystem level.

What does the Alliance mean to your organisation? 

J: What I like about the FIT Alliance is that it brings together like-minded, values-aligned organisations who believe that together, we can move the needle faster.

ICC is an open platform; we are deeply collaborative and so we understand that digitisation is an ecosystem activity – it can’t be achieved by one organisation, country or sector. You need to bring everyone together to make things interoperable where they can be, so that systems can seamlessly communicate. Standards are critical for us because we want an equal and legal playing field.

What does the Alliance mean for international shipping and trade?

J: The electronic bill of lading (eBL) was first introduced in the 1990s, yet in 2022 only around 0.1% of bills of lading (B/Ls) is issued electronically. This is because of closed systems in which supply chain parties have different B/L formats, each guided by their own rules and standards, or varying IT systems requirements. That makes it very hard for eBLs to be used freely for cross-border trade. To change this, an open system is required, as well as statutory law recognition.

What top three benefits will your members gain from the Alliance?

J: Quite simply: better, faster and cheaper. Better visibility of the supply chain, better cash flow and faster access to financing, and lower costs of going digital to start reaping the benefits of digitalisation sooner.

How will you achieve your aims and secure adoption among your members?

J: You have to excite people, but the good thing is, they do want to get on board. People come up to me and say, “this is brilliant, how can we be part of it?” Communication, guidance and training will all play a part. We keep our network very closely updated about our work and produce practical toolkits for cross-border paperless trade and educational courses through our ICC Academy to increase awareness and grow adoption rates.