Government confirms e-signatures can continue to be used for export controls documentation

Tue 2 Jan 2024
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Laptop with trade icons

The government has confirmed that it will continue to accept digital versions of documents relating to export controls and licences.

The Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) had previously paused the requirement for wet signatures to be provided on this documentation during the pandemic in 2020 (NTE 20/10).

In a Notice to Exporters (NTE 23/25) published just before Christmas 2023, it confirmed that electronic signatures would continue to be accepted on a permanent basis.

“We fully appreciate that electronic signatures come in many forms and formats and that they are only as secure as the business processes and technology used to create them,” the ECJU said. “A digital or electronic signature is just as legally binding as a handwritten signature.”

Another ‘positive step’ for trade digitalisation

Roger Arthey, the chair of the Institute of Export & International Trade’s (IOE&IT) Export Control Profession, welcomed the announcement, saying:

“Going back to wet signatures would have reintroduced an unnecessary administrative step and would have been seen as a backward step for the industry.

“The move to continue accepting e-signatures is sensible and will be welcomed by export control professionals.”

Kevin Shakespeare, director of strategic projects and international development at IOE&IT, said the announcement was a ‘positive step’ in the UK’s wider strategy to modernise its borders and digitalise trade.

“The UK has been taking various steps to digitalise trade procedures as part of its 2025 Border Strategy.

This includes the passing into law of the Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA) in 2023, which gives digital versions of key trade documents the same legal footing as their paper equivalents.

“The recent announcement by the ECJU to continue to allow e-signatures for documents relating to export controls is another positive step and will be welcomed by the industry.”

Another big year for digtalisation?

Last year was hailed by Shakespeare as another big year for trade digitalisation, with the passing of ETDA being among a number of key developments.

Other milestones in 2023 included the publication of the Border Target Operating Model, the development of the Single Trade Window and the successful pilots carried out on a new ‘Ecosystem of Trust’ model for border checks.

Shakespeare says 2024 will be another important year, adding:

“We want 2024 to be the year where businesses see more tangible benefits from digital trade and trade facilitation. Businesses that embrace compliance and being transparent should be the ones to benefit.”

Your next step

You can take your next step toward benefiting from the ongoing digitalisation of trade by taking one of IOE&IT’s ‘digital trade’ training courses, including:

These courses are designed to help your business understand the practicalities of going digital and what the tangible benefits of this are.

You can also learn more about export controls on our ‘Introduction to export licensing controls’ course.