Around 75% of companies think ETDA will help boost business, according to IOE and IT webinar poll

Fri 8 Sept 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

Electronic trade documents being used by person on tablet

Just under 75% of businesses think that electronic trade documents will have a positive effect on their companies, according to a poll of attendees to an Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) webinar

The webinar covered the UK’s new Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA), due to be implemented later this month.

Digital economy and technology minister Paul Scully has said that ETDA could save businesses £1.1bn over the next decade.


The webinar featured a panel headlined by Kevin Shakespeare, director of strategic partnerships and international development at IOE&IT, as well as IOE&IT digital trade and customs specialist Ilona Kawka.

Alongside them were Trade Finance Global editorial director Deepesh Patel, as well as Brose senior customs and foreign trade compliance director Sylwia Nowak and co-founder of Exabler Ramin Takin.

“We shouldn’t underestimate how significant this act is,” said Shakespeare, who called it “an opportunity to take a step forward”.

In comments echoed by Patel, he outlined the UK’s “leading role” in trade digitalisation along with other nations who have recently adopted similar legislation, including Singapore and the UAE.

Patel suggested that this adoption of digitalised documentation positions the UK to give valuable guidance to other nations.

Speed and efficiency

65% of attendees said the speed and efficiency benefits of swapping paper documentation for digital was the most important opportunity, while a further 23% selected improvements in security and visibility of trade.

Patel said the promise of more accessible data on company trading would open up new possibilities for banks to lend to SMEs.

Efficiency itself could also cut carbon emissions, Shakespeare suggested, with fewer goods “lying in the port while we wait for the bill to be presented”.


Takin took up the theme of improved efficiency to note that the opportunities the ETDA presents may vary across different types of business.

 While larger businesses may see immediate benefits, SMEs may not “see that value” as quickly.

Turning to the challenges that remain to be addressed with digitalisation, he posed the question: “Do we have enough coverage that we can move a lot of processes to fully digital, rather than falling back on paper?”

Adoption of digital documentation will be a choice which, he suggested, could be made easier with the use of a “reliable system” underpinning it, though he noted that this is not yet fully developed.

“Business management need to know: ‘If I click this button, who gets that information?’ If there’s a problem with the system, is there liability cover?”

Potential pitfalls

Takin said that these and other questions, particularly on interoperability between those using different systems, still required clear solutions.

Another poll suggested his feelings were shared: asked what they considered to be the biggest challenge posed by the legislation, 36% said “ensuring partners on board” while a further 29% chose IT skills and implementation.

Nowak called for “clear guidance for businesses on how to apply the bill in practice”, and she suggested that the bill should be built upon alongside other initiatives such as the UK Single Trade Window.

Kawka added that the act could also represent “the basis for a legal framework”.

Connecting digital trade with other initiatives is vital, Shakespeare said in his closing remarks: “The work we’re doing in Africa among SMEs is really important, and digital trade can help there as well.”