Nine of the top 10 carriers in the world have signed up to move all bills of lading to electronic format by 2030, the Digital Container Shipping Association has announced.
The DCSA, which was formed by the carriers to find common digital formats to which all lines could adhere, said the carriers had committed to converting half of original bills of lading to digital within five years, and 100% by 2030, in an effort to accelerate the digitalisation of the sector.
“The digitalisation of international trade holds vast potential for the world economy by reducing friction and, as trade brings prosperity and the eBL will further enable trade, helping bring millions out of poverty,” said DCSA chief executive Thomas Bagge. “This heralds the start of a new era in container shipping as the industry transitions to scaled automation and fully paperless trade. Document digitalisation has the power to transform international trade and requires collaboration from all stakeholders. I applaud the leadership of our members in coming together to achieve this important milestone.”
The DCSA estimates that moving from paper to digital bills of lading could save as much as $6.5bn in direct costs, and enable $30bn-$40bn in annual global trade growth.
Bills of lading function as title documents, receipts for shipped goods and as a record of agreed terms. Carriers issue around 45m each year, but under 2% of these were electronic in 2021.
“Manual, paper-based processes are time-consuming, expensive and environmentally unsustainable for stakeholders along complex supply chains,” the DCSA said. “Paper-based processes break down when cargo in ports cannot be gated out because original bills of lading, or title documents, fail to arrive or cannot be manually processed in time. In contrast, digital processes enable data to flow instantly and securely, reducing delays and waste.”
In a joint statement announcing the decision, Mediterranean Shipping Co, Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, Ocean Network Express, Evergreen, Yang Ming, HMM and Zim said the digitalisation of documents had “fundamentally transformed” other industries.
“International trade has improved its digital capabilities, but has yet to scale standardised automation,” the statement said. “The bill of lading is often still reliant on the physical transfer of paper records and manual work. Customers are often required to send and receive paper, obtain stamps and signatures to execute the physical transportation from origin to destination. This represents a time-consuming and environmentally expensive process for customers.”
The DCSA has been working on a standard for eBLs for several years, and last year released a beta version of the standard for review by the industry.
MSC, which has been a strong supporter of the move towards digitalisation, said the adoption of a standardised eBL by 2030 takes the journey one step further.
“By “standardised”, we mean that our eBL solution will be compliant with the DCSA’s data, process, and interface standards for the digital submission of shipping instructions and issuance of electronic bills of lading,” MSC said.
Chief executive Søren Toft said: “Our industry needs to accelerate digitalisation to help make shipping more efficient, more secure and a better experience for our customers. On top of these benefits, moving to 100% eBL will contribute towards our climate goals, as we move towards net-zero 2050.”
Maersk chief executive Vincent Clerc said that the need for digialtisation in logistics was urgent, and the industry needed to speed up the process. “This is an important step in the journey towards creating a digital standard of one of the most cost heavy and troublesome components in the shipping industry. A fully digitised bill of lading enables a more seamless customer experience across the supply chain and in turn it will help democratise trade and reduce time and costs for all involved parties.”
Source: Lloyd's List