First paperless shipment sent from UK in 'landmark' moment for international trade

Tue 26 Sept 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

Digital trade documents on a screen

A fully digitalised trade shipment has been sent from Burnley to Singapore, landing yesterday (25 September) in what the government calls a “landmark moment” for paperless trade.

The shipment saw Fort Vale, a manufacturing firm based in Burnley, send a valve to the Asian nation with the assistance of UK- and Singapore-based tech company LogChain—and without paper customs documents.

The news comes following last week’s implementation of the UK’s Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA), which gives digital trade documentation the same legal footing as paper-based equivalents.

The ETDA advantage

This makes the UK the first G7 nation to do so.

The ETDA lists bills of exchange, bills of lading and warehouse receipts as commonly-used documents that could be digitised.

Singapore and the UK are among the first countries to introduce legislation that enables the digitisation of key trade documentation. In 2022, the two countries signed the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, “the first digitally focused trade agreement ever agreed by a European nation”.

‘Faster, cheaper and more secure’

Graham Blanchard, Fort Vale’s global sales and marketing director, said the firm was “extremely enthusiastic and excited by the prospect of successful digital trade transactions.”

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) contends that the shift from paper documents “makes doing business around the globe faster, cheaper and more secure”, cutting the risk of fraud and lowering processing times “by up to 75%”.

International trade minister Nigel Huddleston said the change will save exporting firms “significant sums of money” and make it easier for UK companies to do business internationally.

“In a world where everyone pays for things digitally, it’s high time we tear up the pointless paperwork and get with the 21st century.”

History makers

Paul Scully, the minister for tech and digital economy, said that the two countries have “made history” with the shipment.

“We’re showing the world that the UK isn’t merely a participant in the digital economy – we are at its forefront.

“This transformative step promises a future where international trade is swifter, more affordable, and inclusive for businesses of every size.”

‘A new era’

The government calculates that digitalisation of trade could yield £1.14bn for the UK economy in the next ten years.

It also argues that taking the step in the UK could “kickstart digitalisation globally” given that “80% of customs bills [are] based on English law”, making the UK a leader on the subject.