Digitalised trade offers sustainability boost, say Import Export Show speakers

Thu 16 Nov 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

Digitisation panel at Import Export Panel

Digitalisation is crucial for trade to become more sustainable – so went the message at a panel session during yesterday’s (15 November) first-ever Import Export Show.

Joining chair Nina Hossain were Jens Munch Lund-Nielsen, the IOTA Foundation’s head of global trade, Barclays Global Transaction Banking managing director Jaya Vohra, Professor Michael Short of Teesside University and the Institute of Export and International Trade’s (IOE&IT’s) director of strategic projects and international development, Kevin Shakespeare.

‘Here and now’

An opening poll found 89% of the audience in the room considered sustainability an important element of trade, and Shakespeare started the discussion by making the case that “whether we like it or not” the issue of sustainability is “here and now”.

In considering technical problems around sustainability that could be eased by digitalised trade, Lund-Nielsen drew attention to the issue of electric vehicle (EV) batteries and how they are taxed and regulated.

New regulation will introduce taxes on batteries at the end of their life, he said – but if they are recycled, how can that be recorded and considered in order to regulate for sustainability?

“Producers today need to know what happens to their batteries 10 years later,” he said.


Queried by Hossain on the ongoing trends in digitalisation, Vohra described how logistics providers are updating and digitalising their platforms.

“There is a lot of technology we can leverage. API technology means you can plug and play with other providers, which you need for interoperability within the trade ecosystem.”

What is required alongside technological updates, however, is a framework of common sustainability standards that enable the tracking of relevant information.

The passing of the Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA) is a “watershed moment”, Vohra said, and this presents an opportunity to “come together as an industry and collaborate” to commercialise and scale digitalisation while also building towards a set of standards for sustainability.

Industry pilots and experiments are ongoing in this area, but there isn’t “that focused effort” yet, she argued. That will require long-term investment, which Barclays Global Transaction Banking is building towards through a partnership with the Department for Business and Trade.


Collaboration between the public and private sectors is crucial, Shakespeare concurred. Referring to digital trade corridor pilots, on which he has worked recently with the Kenyan government, he returned to the theme of interoperability, contending that “we can’t have a situation where we have a monopoly provider of technology.”

He added that it’s also important for governments to work together with other governments on sustainability, creating standards at the “UN level” in industries such as textiles and battery manufacturing.

Trade digitalisation’s benefits for sustainability are currently limited by the “patchy” picture of its implementation beyond the UK, Short added in answer to an audience question.

“We need consistency across borders, but that requires partnership and agreements between governments. The UN model law on electronic transferable records is a good way to start bringing conformity.”

There is need for digital solutions that “make financial sense” and Short again echoed the need for government support to offset the risk of implementing digitalisation projects.