New law allows shipping containers to be traded using digital documents for the first time

supply chain risks

A new law has been passed to allow shipping containers to be traded using digital documents, not paper ones, the government has announced.

The Electronic Trade Documents Act has received Royal Assent, which means electronic trade documents will be granted the same legal status as physical trade documents.

This has been introduced to make trade more straightforward, efficient and sustainable, the government said. The UK is the first of the G7 countries to bring in such legislation, which is expected to have a significant impact on all sectors, including the trade of timber and wood-based panels.

Previously, exporters and importers have been required to use paper documents to transfer ownership of the goods they are shipping under laws dating back to the 1800s.

Now, however, they will be able to switch to paperless trades, making it less likely that sensitive paper documents will be lost, and allowing for stronger safeguards through the use of digital technology.

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.”

Nick Boulton, TDUK’s Head of Technical and Trade Policy, said: “This is a critical development for TDUK members undertaking containerised international trade. It paves the way for increasing efficiency in the electronic transfer and storage of essential documentation potentially increasing security and decreasing the need to physically transfer documents between parties in the logistics chain.”

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