Streamlining international trade by digitalising end-to-end documentation

Streamlining international trade by digitalising end-to-end documentation

Antiquated, paper-based processes introduce complexity and delays into shipping

To complete an international shipment, several documents must be exchanged between multiple parties, from booking to shipment release. 

Currently, these documents are not standardised, and the majority are not available digitally, requiring physical hand-off between participants. The manual handover of paper documents is inefficient, expensive and error prone, which contributes to rising prices and supply chain bottlenecks. These issues have never been more widespread or apparent than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paper-based B/L processes broke down as cargo in ports could not be gated out because original bills of lading (B/Ls), or title documents, were stuck elsewhere due to airfreight delays caused by grounded airplanes. 

Despite these issues, adoption of the electronic bill of lading (eBL) is currently extremely limited, largely due to a lack of legislative and technical interoperability caused by a lack of standardisation. In 2020, DCSA estimated that 16 million original bills of lading were issued by ocean carriers. Paper B/Ls cost the industry about US$11 billion per year, yet less than 0.3% were eBL. 

Benefits of digitalising documentation 

Amazingly, the bill of lading has changed little since the 1700s, but undoubtedly, the world has. 

Hence, standardising B/L processes and creating a digital native version of the B/L and all associated documentation will drive benefits not only for the industry and its stakeholders, but for the world at large.  

A dramatically simplified and streamlined B/L process will enable carriers to become more efficient while providing a better experience for shippers. And every stakeholder will benefit from increased efficiency, accuracy and reduced administration costs. 

The DCSA eDocumentation initiative 

The need for digital documentation is now widely accepted among industry stakeholders. 

To address this need, DCSA has initiated an eDocumentation program that will mitigate the challenges involved in standardising and digitising international trade documents. The ultimate goal is to facilitate acceptance and adoption of an eBL by regulators, banks and insurers, and to unify communication between these organisations and customers, carriers and all other stakeholders involved in an international shipping transaction.

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