UN Special Recommendation No.33 – Guidelines for Single Window : 2020 Edition

In many countries, companies involved in international trade must prepare and submit large volumes of information and documents to governmental authorities to comply with import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. Often, this information and documentation must be submitted to several different agencies, each with their own specific (manual or automated) systems and paper forms. These extensive requirements, together with their associated compliance costs, can constitute a serious burden to both Governments and the business community and represents a serious barrier to the development of international trade.

One approach to addressing this problem is the establishment of a Single Window federating all relevant government administrations whereby all trade related information and/or documents need only be submitted once at a single entry point. This can enhance the availability and handling of information, expedite and simplify information flows between trade and government and can result in greater harmonization and sharing of the relevant data across governmental systems, bringing meaningful gains to all parties involved in cross-border trade. The use of such a facility can result in the improved efficiency and effectiveness of official controls and can reduce costs for both Governments and traders due to better use of resources.

The Single Window is therefore a practical application of trade facilitation concepts meant to reduce non-tariff trade barriers.

Download the Guidelines here!

Source: United Nations

Nigeria – Huawei, Smiths Detection, Bionica win concession for $3.1bn Customs modernisation project

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday ratified the $3.1 billion anticipatory approval by President Muhammadu Buhari to concession the modernisation project of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to a consortium named Messers E.Customs HC Project Limited. The concession is for 20 years.

The consortium is made up of Bionica Technologies W.A. Limited, Huawei, Smiths Detection, Nuctech of China, Larsen & Toubro Group, and Paramount Group.

The Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, while briefing State House correspondents at the end of the virtual FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja on Wednesday, said the project will be at zero cost to the Federal Government since the $3.1 billion being proposed for the project will be sourced by the concessionaire.

She said, “The Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning presented a memo, which is for the ratification of Mr. President’s anticipatory approval for the contract for the Customs modernisation.

“The purpose of the memo we presented to Council was for a project that will enable the complete automation of the Nigeria Custom Service processes and procedures using the application and information and technology in all aspects of Customs administration in favour of a firm known as E. Customs HC Projects Nigeria Limited For a concessionary period of 20 years.

“The main objective of this project is to completely automate every aspect of the Customs business and to institutionalise the use of smart and emerging technologies that will enhance the statutory function of the Nigeria Customs Service in the areas of revenue generation as well as trade facilitation and enhancement of security. The total cost of the project is in the sum of $3.1 billion. The consortium, the PPP group that has been approved are led by Messers Y Technologies with four other members.

“The committee that led this process also looked at the National Trade Impact process that has been going on for years and confirmed that the Nigerian e-customs project is a subset of the National Trade Impact and would prefer the Nigeria Customs to play its role in the national trading platform.

“The Bionica Technologies West Africa Limited, Bargain Securities and Supplies Nigeria Limited, these are lead sponsor and co-sponsor. We also have The Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) as the lead financier and Huawei Technology as a technical service provider.

“So, the council today, ratified Mr. President’s approval for the PPP concession for a 20-year period to Messers E. Customs HC Project Limited as a concessionaire for the delivery of customs modernisation project. This is a project that will not have an immediate cost to the government, the investors are providing all of the financings and this revenue will be deployed in three phases in the concessionary period of 20 years.

“The Nigeria Customs currently has some level of automation services but it is not all of its serves that are automated. This is an end-to-end automation of all of Nigeria Customs Service processes and it’s going to bring huge value to the country. So this investment of $3.1 billion is broken down into capital investment of $1.2 billion which will be done in three phases over 36 months by these investors and $1.1 billion is our projection of the operational cost over the 20-year period of the implementation of the project.

“This project has the potential to yield up to $176 billion of revenue and the consortia that are providing this investment are going to be paid over time according to the schedule that is negotiated for their investments including their profits and cost.

“So this is the best possible way for Nigeria to roll out an important capital project using funds from the private sector and providing service for the use of Nigerian people and the government.”

Asked if with the project Customs would overtake petroleum as a source of revenue for the country, the Minister said it was part of the diversification plan of government.

According to her, “We hope that at some point those revenues from oil will begin to be insignificant compared to revenue from the non-oil sector in the Nigerian economy. That is our aspiration and that is the true meaning of diversification.”

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in his explanation said, “The key point is that it is not costing the Federal Government one thing, the $3.1 billion being proposed will be sourced by the sponsors and the partners.”

15 companies were pre-qualified and were all invited to make presentations on their solutions to enable Nigeria realise its vision of attaining complete automation of its Customs operations and enthroning best practice methods as obtained in advanced countries.

Bionica Technologies W.A. Limited was the preferred bidder after a rigorous evaluation process. Bionica presented its bid together with a consortium namely, Huawei, Smiths Detection, Nuctech of China, Larsen & Toubro Group, and Paramount Group. The Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) is both an equity investor and the Mandated Lead Arranger (MLA), which will facilitate loan syndication with foreign and local banks.

Source: Ships and Ports, September 2002

MSC to accelerate e-B/L roll-out in India after successful pilot

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has announced it will accelerate efforts to promote an electronic Bill of Lading (e-B/L) across the maritime industry in response to the crisis brought on by COVID-19. 

In a statement, the carrier said it has been running a pilot scheme alongside its third-party blockchain platform WAVE to introduce the e-BL in India since late-2019. 

MSC’s customers continued to ship goods by using what it called the “reliable and secure digital platform for the fast transfer of trade-related documents”, even through throughout the pandemic, the company said. 

The pandemic caused a drop in TEU volume across the world but as China has resumed exports, congestion has hurt port operations, particularly in India.

The problem has been exacerbated by lockdown measures forcing people to work remotely which has led to vital documents such as the Bill of Lading (BL) being incomplete. 

To mitigate this problem, MSC has said it will offer the WAVE e-BL solution to streamline affected operations and ensure continuity of service.

In the pre-COVID, paper-based process, it would take days for the BL to travel from origin to destination, physically changing hands several times along the way.

“We have had situations where couriers were unable to deliver documents between ports, trade offices and banks due to quarantine measures,” relates Capt. Deepak Tewari, Managing Director at MSC India.

“WAVE mirrors the paper-based process that the shipping and cargo transportation industry is used to, only without physical couriers. 

“Thus, it’s an ideal solution to implement at a time when our customers need to rapidly adjust their processes, as the learning curve is quite low.” he adds.

Captain Deepak Tewari, MSC, also commented: “We have been working with WAVE on introducing and piloting an e-BL solution since 2019. We ran successful pilot projects with some of our customers last year, where we saw first-hand the benefits which arise from digitalising this part of the process. 

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we decided to accelerate our roll-out and offer the e-B/L solution to our broader base of customers.” 

Gadi Ruschin, CEO at WAVE, comments: “Our mission since founding WAVE has been to transform the efficiency and security of international trade documentation through our robust digitisation protocol. 

“We now see ourselves as ‘mission critical’ to ensuring trade can continue as physical movement of people and the paper they carry has been shuttered across the world. It couldn’t come at a more critical time as countries rely on trade to fight COVID-19 and save their economies. 

“We launched this unique onboarding effort to help MSC swiftly onboard stakeholders and navigate the challenges while preparing the carrier to flourish once conditions normalise.”

MSC claimed its e-BL solution can cut BL transit time from days to minutes, without the need for physical contact. The e-B/L is sent using WAVE’s blockchain-based system, which uses distributed ledger technology to ensure that all parties can issue, transfer, endorse and manage trade-related documents through a secure, decentralised network.

Source: Porttechnology, 10 September 2020

U.K. Starts Research on Brexit Customs System Due in Four Months

Marcin Jozwiak – Uplash

The British government has started to conduct research on its new post-Brexit customs IT system, with four months left before the service is due to go live.

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, which is in charge of handling the new customs paperwork that will apply to UK-EU trade from 2021, has invited hauliers to participate in rounds of remote-user testing in the coming months for its Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), according to a memo to the freight forwarding industry.

The GVMS – which is set to be used to police cross-Irish Sea trade from Jan 1 2021, and then all UK-EU goods flows from July – will give freight companies a unique reference number that proves that they have filed the necessary post-Brexit paperwork, such as customs declarations.

Without a reference from the GVMS, trucks will not be allowed to cross between the UK and EU.

The fact that the GVMS is still in the research and design phase less than 90 working days before it is due to be introduced is a cause for concern in the logistics industry: one freight forwarder, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said they are worried the service won’t be completed and functional on time.

The new system will be required even if Britain and the EU sign a free-trade agreement.

And while consultation with the industry is welcome, it would have been preferable to do such research during the system design process, said Anna Jerzewska, founder of Trade and Borders, a customs and trade consultancy.

“The Government has made it clear that GVMS is unlikely to be ready for January 1 and as far as we understand there will be back-up procedures in place,” she said.

“It will be crucial to ensure that such alternatives are available in places where traffic management will be important,” she said, citing Kent and the Irish Sea.

In the memo, HMRC says it wants to start the first round of testing “ASAP” due to the shortage of time.

The tests will involve hour-long video calls where hauliers try prototypes and give feedback.

“When designing a system that the industry will be using, it is important we work in partnership with them to make sure it suits their and our needs,” HMRC said by email.

“We will continue to develop our systems in readiness for the end of the transition period and when full border controls are implemented from July 2021.”

Source: Bloomberg, article authored by Joe Mayes, 28 August 2020

Maersk launches Maersk Flow, a digital supply chain management platform

To further assist small and medium sized businesses with the complexity of managing their supply chains, Maersk is launching Maersk Flow – a digital platform which provides customers and their partners with everything they need to take control of their supply chain, from factory to market.

The solution enables transparency in critical supply chain processes and ensures that the flow of goods and documents is executed as planned. It also reduces manual work and costly mistakes, while empowering logistics professionals with all the current and historical data they need to sustainably improve their supply chain.

The daily life of small and medium sized businesses is increasingly global, complex and fast-paced. Every day thousands of products are moving through the supply chain, on multiple carriers, coming from and reaching many supply chain partners and customers. And for many of these companies this complexity is managed fully manually via spreadsheets, emails and phone calls, which despite lots of hard work is leading to reduced visibility and control – and ultimately higher costs or lost sales. With Maersk Flow these companies will be able to take control of their supply chains.

Maersk Flow further extends Maersk’s customer reach and strengthens the company’s position as an industry leader in digital solutions.

Maersk Flow facilitates the uninterrupted flow of information, cargo, and documentation to empower you and your partners to take the right action at the right time. Its unique features give you convenience and bring coherence to your everyday operations, so that you can optimise your supply chain logistics and refocus your resources on delivering value to your customers. The tool will assist with –

  • Purchase Order Management
  • Booking Management
  • Reporting and Performance
  • Document Sharing
  • Visibility

For more information you can visit: https://www.maersk.com/solutions/supply-chain/maersk-flow

India revives Preferential Trade Agreement initiative with SACU

Discussions between Southern African Customs Union (SACU) [South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini] and India to achieve a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) have been revived with the two sides holding a virtual meeting last week to discuss various aspects of the PTA. 

The Indian side at the dialogue was led by Srikar Reddy, Joint Secretary, Department of Commerce while SACU was led by Amb. Steve Katjiuanjo, Executive Director, Ministry of Industrialization,Trade and SME Development of Namibia. 

Reddy underlined India’s historically close ties with Southern Africa and its steadfast commitment to deepen economic engagement with this region. He informed that in 2019-20, trade between India and Africa as a whole stood at $ 66.7 billion, of which the India-SACU trade was $ 10.9 billion with an immense potential to expand further. 

Amb Katjiuanjo called India as a strategic partner for SACU. Trade is currently in SACU’s favour, thus showing that the region is benefiting from access to the vast Indian market. 

Prashant Agrawal, High Commissioner of India to Namibia, said on the occasion that in these unprecedented times of Covid-19 pandemic and its economic challenges, economies of the region, including of Namibia, could vastly benefit by enhanced trade and commercial links with India’s $ 2.9 trillion economy. 

India stood fully committed and ready to support manufacturing and industry in Namibia in areas such as agriculture, irrigation, renewables, ICT, pharma and medical supplies. Both sides reviewed the progress made and discussed steps to quickly move forward on the PTA. 

India-Namibia bilateral trade during 2018-19 was $ 135.92 million with India’s exports valued at $ 82.37 million, while India’s imports stood at $ 53.55 million. Mining sector is an area of mutual interest. Namibia is rich in uranium, diamonds, copper, phosphates and other minerals. Indian technological prowess in IT, engineering, pharmaceuticals, railways and SMEs is of interest to Namibia. Bilateral cooperation in the energy and agricultural sectors also has good prospects. 

Meanwhile exports from India to South Africa include vehicles and components thereof, transport equipment, drugs and pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, footwear, dyes and intermediates, chemicals, textiles, rice, gems and jewellery, etc. Imports from South Africa to India include gold, steam coal, copper ores & concentrates, phosphoric acid, manganese ore, aluminium ingots & other minerals. India-S Africa bilateral trade was $ 10,584.5 million during 2018-19. 

Source: India Times, 19 July 2020

Tanzania – Electronic Tax Stamp Pushes Up Revenue By 34%

THE use of Electronic Tax Stamps (ETS) for excisable goods have contributed to a 34 percent increase in revenue collected on branded products.

Due to the increase, the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) has already rolled out the second phase which saw ETS being stamped on soft and carbonated drink plus bottled water.

TRA Deputy Commissioner General, Mr Msafiri Mbibo made the remarks during the on-going 44th Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (DITF).

Mr Mbibo said since the system was introduced it has proven success showing improvement in revenue collections in which there is an increase of 34 percent.

ETS replaces the former paper stamp system, which was cumbersome and prone to human error, allowing certain tax-related malpractices to slip through the cracks.

This is one of the government’s moves geared towards improving tax administration in the country.

“We are glad that ETS shows improvement in the collection of excise duty and Value-added Tax (VAT), in the first quarter of the 2019/20 financial year the collection rose to 35.3 per cent on domestic spirits and wines compared to the corresponding period of last year,” he noted.

The taxman garnered 25.8bn/-as excise duty and VAT from domestic spirits and wines during the first quarter of the 2018/19 fiscal year, but the amount rose to 34.96bn/- during the first quarter of the 2019/2020 financial year.

Excise duty and VAT on cigarettes rose by 5.6 percent during the first quarter of the 2019/2020 financial year compared to a similar period last year.

TRA collected 56.7bn/-as excise duty and VAT on cigarettes from July to September 2019, a 3bn/-increase from a similar period of the previous financial year.

For the soft drinks, the amount collected as excise duty and VAT during the two months of August and September 2019 was 18 percent, higher than what was garnered during a similar period in 2018.

TRA collected 16.155bn/-in excise duty and VAT on soft drinks in August and September 2018, but the amount rose to 19.05bn/-during the period between August and September 2019.

Mr Mbibo said ETS has helped to eliminate counterfeit products from the market. It is, nonetheless, a promising move by the Government, and manufacturers and intellectual property owners should have reason to smile.

Commenting on how TRA is planning to ensure the surge the tax base, Mbibo said they will continue to develop friendly tax collection mechanisms so that everyone can enjoy voluntary taxation.

ETS first phase commenced on 15 January 2019 and affected cigarettes, wines, spirits, beer and all other alcoholic beverages.

The second phase began on 1 August 2019 and applied to products such as sweetened or flavoured water and other non-alcoholic beverages, except for fruit or vegetable juice.

The Regulations require each manufacturer to install an electronic tax stamp management system.

A Swiss-based firm SICPA has been contracted by the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) to install and enroll all manufacturers, producers and importers onto the system.

Source: Daily News (Tanzania), 8 July 2020

WCO News – June 2020

As the title suggests, the latest edition of WCO News contains a variety of articles concerning Customs approach to COVID-19 and even one article relating to Customs Brokers on COVID-19. Other features include C-2-C cooperation and information exchange, Risk Management and the future invisible supply chain and Secure Border . Of interest for Customs Policy are articles on improvements to simplification and harmonisation of components to the Revised Kyoto Convention; WCO’s development of draft “Practical Guidance on Free Zones” as well as Internet domain name ownership data – understanding changes and useful suggestions for Customs. All in all another great read!

Source : World Customs Organisation

Guide to the WCO E-Commerce Framework of Standards

It is often difficult to navigate and assimilate the myriad of documentation and annexes associated with significant initiatives such as WCO’s ‘framework of standards’. True, the documentation is detailed and technical. There are, however, online training courses available on the WCO website for users wishing to attain a level of proficiency on a particular subject. Furthermore, member states can request technical assistance from WCO in the establishment of capacity for the implementation of specific Customs initiatives.

However, sometimes one requires a synopsis or insight as to what a particular initiative aims to achieve. This is important so as to establish the nature and extent of change and capacity required in one’s own domestic situation. In my area of operation, MS PowerPointTM plays an important role in uniformly conveying key information to a multitude of people across different disciplines in the organisation. Im happy to share a ‘guide’ which consolidates most of the ‘official’ WCO documentation that comprise the Framework of Standards on E-Commerce. When viewed as a PowerPoint Show, all hyperlinks to the official WCO E-Commerce documentation are available for download or display. Below are versions for both standard PowerPoint or PowerPoint Show. I hope it will serve some useful purpose.

Guide – WCO Framework of Standards on E-Commerce [PPTX, 3MB]

Guide – WCO Framework of Standards on E-Commerce [PPSX, 3MB]

Blockchain – introducing Customs to the Global Supply Chain, earlier

Picture: Dadiani Fine Art

Customs authorities are age-old institutions whose missions have been subject to numerous changes over time. Historically, the main role was to levy customs duties, which, in other words meant collecting resources for the benefit of local authorities. Today, customs performs many other functions, from securing national borders, recording import and export trade and prevention of fraud and illegal trade activity.

From the customs authority’s perspective, there is a constant focus on finding innovative technology and new methods and techniques to become more effective on risk assessment and inspection of the goods circulating across their borders. At the same time, customs authorities must examine the consequences these changes will have on trade, avoiding the creation of additional burden and obstacles for industries and entities involved in the exchange. Adopting flexible technology is often key for meaningful strategic transformations.

More quality data with accuracy and speed

Each country has its own policies for operating border control when goods arrive or depart from their territory. Most of these policies work from systems built off a central repository, powered by data collected from different sources. Time and effort are often spent in sorting and cleansing data from these various sources but disconsonant data can still create confusing outcomes when analyzed.

While globalization gives an incentive to operate in an open market, the increased amount of trade activity also conceals illicit activities that must be supervised by customs authorities, such as tax evasion, drug traffic or smuggling. It is in the best interest of the entire industry to cooperate, allowing data sharing to flag the early recognition of risky trade transactions.

Receiving data related to the supply chain activities prior to and during the transportation process can assist authorities, supporting them to pinpoint risky elements on international trade. Data validation across various trade and transportation documents allows authorities to manage detailed risk assessment processes and is enhanced with access to earlier and more granular information.

Providing government authorities with access to upstream transport data is one of the features of TradeLens. On the platform, customs authorities have access to data related to their countries from the moment a booking is placed with a carrier. Updates on documents from different data sources and transportation milestones are shared in near real-time.

Additional data is not only a way to make sure that accurate risk assessments are being made, but it can also help decrease the burden placed by the bureaucracy related to importing or exporting goods. Increasing the accuracy of the inspection of goods, can enable authorities to focus their resources on the most important targets and improve trade documentation processing for reliable shippers, truckers and carriers. Enhancing global trade and the upstream exchange of information can drive growth and prosperity for the entire ecosystem.

Doing more with less

While many technologies and platforms exist in the marketplace, organizations are often constrained by limited public resources that must be utilized wisely. TradeLens does not aim at replacing existing systems but enhancing them with additional data from the supply chain. The TradeLens Platform provides a forum for authorities to run pilots and test innovative solutions in a true end-to-end shipment lifecycle.

In order to contribute to the logistics operations of the entire ecosystem, customs authorities can send notifications related to their inspection and release activities to TradeLens. This information will be made available in near real-time to all the players involved in the shipment and permissioned to see the data.

Several countries have already started using TradeLens to improve their access to valuable information that will in turn support their mission goals:Indonesia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Jordan and Azerbaijan.

Source: TradeLens, 28 May 2020

Infographic – The Future of Supply Chain Automation

This infographic from Raconteur highlights the state of automation across global supply chains, while also providing an outlook for future investment.

As Amazon continues to set the bar for efficiency by integrating an astounding spectrum of automation technology, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that traditional supply chain models are ripe for disruption. 

For this reason, companies around the world are now rethinking their warehouse and distribution systems, with automation taking center stage.

Source: Raconteur, 2020

Ghana – Integrated Customs Management Systems to be mandatory in June 2020

The Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has stated that effective June 1, 2020, all transactions related to the import and export of goods at the various ports in the country shall be processed through the Integrated Customs Management Systems (ICUMS).

The move, according to the GRA, was aimed at coordinating all import and export activities at the ports on a single platform to reduce cost in clearing and exporting of goods.

ICUMS  is a new port clearing system that processes documents and payments through one window and the system is a departure from the previous system where ‘valuation and classification’ and ‘risk management and payment’ were handled by different entities.

The deployment of ICUMS, which started yesterday at the Tema Port and all other entry points, is envisaged to replace the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAARS) which was being handled West Blue and the GCMS which was jointly operated by the Customs Division of GRA and GCNet.

The GRA in a press statement issued in Accra on Monday, signed by the Acting Commissioner-General, Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah and copied to the Ghanaian Times, however, said between April 28, 2020 and May 31, 2020, transactions in respect of import and export manifest can be processed through either the ICUMS or the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) for the Tema Port as well as all other entry points.

 “All existing transactions commencing prior to the 31st of May 2020 for which processing have not been completed in the GCMS (before or after payment of duty) shall be processed through the ICUMS,” the statement said.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry in March 2018 signed a contract with the Ghana Link Network Services Limited in collaboration with Customs UNI-PASS International Agency (CUPIA) of Korea Customs Services to introduce the UNI-PASS Systems in Ghana for a period of ten years at a cost of $40 million.

However, the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) has kicked against the government contract with Ghana Link Network Services and the implementation of the UNI-PASS system in Ghana.

According to the Institute, the GCNet and West Blue Consulting systems were superior and were working perfectly and thus there was no need for a new system.

GIFF in a situation report on the deployment of UNIPASS/ICUMS at Takoradi copied to the Minister of Trade and Industry, Alan Kyeremanteng, cited by this paper, cautioned that the nationwide implementation of the UNI-PASS system, now Integrated Customs Management System will adversely affect their operations.

“The myriad of problems facing declarants mostly due to lack of proper mapping of the process flow, inadequate training of declarants and unresolved systemic issues must be addressed,” the report said. 

But government in a statement it issued a couple of weeks ago debunked reports that UNI-PASS, has no track record and the required competence to execute the work at hand and  that the UNI-PASS technology had not been deployed or tested anywhere in the world was inaccurate.

“The UNI-PASS technology has been deployed successfully in Tanzania since 2015 under the name Tancis, which World Customs Organisation (WCO) has acclaimed as one of the best innovative trade facilitation systems. Cameroun, like Ghana, has deployed the same technology after successfully developing their system early this year,” the statement said.

“The decision to discontinue with the services of GCNet and other service providers was informed by the need to replace the multiplicity of vendors with a single service provider deploying an end-to-end system,” the statement said.

Source: article by Kingsley Asare, Ghanaian Times, 29 April 2020

What is a bill of lading and why isn’t a digital format industry standard?

The bill of lading is believed to be the most important transport document in international trade: a mainstay of the global supply chain that’s present from origin to destination and critical to customs clearancefinancing and ownership of cargo.

But for as much as shipping has changed over the decades, not much about the bill of lading (BL) has. Today, it’s pretty much the same often-paper, always-time-consuming document it ever was.

That’s why driving an eBill standard is largely considered the Holy Grail of global trade. Succeed in that, and partners up and down the supply chain would benefit from the days and weeks that paper BLs add to the process as they are printed, pouched, messengered, lost, found and waited upon.

It’s ironic because there isn’t a single aspect of the BL that couldn’t be done better digitally. To demonstrate, let’s dive into the essence of these documents and the challenges that remain to making them digital.

How does an original paper bill of lading work?

Once the vessel departs, an original BL can be issued by the ocean carrier. After the shipper endorses the original bill, it is couriered to the buyer who then needs to surrender it back to the carrier at destination as part of the cargo release process.

It sounds simple enough, but along the way the BL impacts many other processes and actions. Even before issuance, the time-consuming process from a shipping instruction to the issuance of a verified BL, many iterations and changes can occur to get the BL into an approved state.  

The BL, and its critical data fields are required for customs clearance, letter of credit, change of title and other processes. One delay in any of these can result in costly extra charges.  

The functions of a bill of lading were made to be done electronically

In oftentimes convoluted international shipments, the BL is the legal go-to document that facilitates negotiation, lending and risk reduction by performing three key functions:

1. It is evidence of a contract of carriage

2. It confirms receipt of goods

3. It serves as the title to the goods

So, can eBill perform these functions while maintaining the integrity and legality that’s required? The P&I Clubs think so. Today’s top eBill solutions meet these challenges through rule frameworks and advanced security measures — all while providing significant cost and time savings.

eBills can play a pivotal role — and a digital role

Carriers issue the BL, but they rely on information from shippers which may change multiple times during the booking and shipper’s instruction processes. Electronic features like structured documents make creation, approval, distribution, tracking — everything — easier than paper.

This benefits not only the shippers but the carriers, buyers, sellers and banks without having the need to continue to print out paper — which defeats the purpose

Digital does the different types of bill of lading better

There are many types of BL, reflecting the complexities of international trade. Eliminating paper is only the beginning of the ways eBills can help streamline processes related to the two main categories of BL:

Sea Waybills are sometimes referred to as “Express Release.” They have a named consignee on them but are issued without any original documents that have to be presented for the release of the cargo. Non-negotiable and non-transferable, they are usually used in three cases:

  1. Intra-company shipments between divisions located in different countries
  2. Shipments when no negotiations take place between the seller and the consignee
  3. Instances when the shipper doesn’t have to submit an original BL to any party in order to secure their payment

Original BLs have different forms that all hinge on the issuance of original BL documents in some way.

· Order BLs are the most common type of BL. They enable delivery of the cargo to be made “To Order” to the bonafide holder of the BL. These types of BL are negotiable and often linked to letter of credit transactions. Often banks must verify and endorse the original BL before the cargo can be released to the buyer.

  • Straight BLs stipulate that the cargo may only be released to the specified consignee and only upon the surrender of an original BL.
  • Open BLs are negotiable and transferable. The name of the consignee can be changed with the consignee’s signature and transferred — often multiple times.

Going Digital assists in filling out the bill of lading

With shippers providing the majority of the information for a BL, completeness and correctness is crucial. eBills help guide the way. If shippers can provide bill of lading information digitally, there’s less risk of keying errors. Form fields and autofill features all speed the process and lead to time savings.

One of the challenges of going paperless with BLs from the very beginning is standards. Adhering to set data standards makes information useful for different parties within organizations and multiple supply chain partners and it enables seamless workflows from automation. Unfortunately, standards are far from being standard today.

Digital makes the information included in a BL more useful

Users look to the bill of lading as an infallible source of essential and comprehensive information like names and addresses, purchase orders or reference numbers, special delivery instructions, pickup date, description of items, packaging type, NMFC freight class and DOT hazmat designations.

eBills of lading can make this information highly transparent to supply chain partners who can use it. But like many of the benefits of eBills, this transparency hinges on adoption — if all the participants of the supply chain are rowing together digitally, it works. If not, it just makes for another manual process that may end up being even more work than paper.

With its centrality to supply chains and essentiality to digitizing global trade, it’s easy to understand why the industry has its sights set on digitizing this important document. But acceptance of the eBill remains both the goal and the greatest challenge today. That’s why getting the eBill to catch on will require successfully digitizing the entire process for eBills, too.

TradeLens, with its relationships with the world’s largest ocean carriers, is in a unique position to explore the digitization of this process at an unprecedented scale. Within an ecosystem where there’s already widespread acceptance, the potential of the eBill could finally be revealed. 

Source: Original article authored by Jeffrey Ivinski, 13 April 2020

World Bank -Trade and COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Photo: Martin Sanchez, Unsplash

Maintaining trade flows during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty.

The speed and scale of the crisis are unprecedented. But governments can ameliorate the impact. The following documents, hyperlinked to this page provide initial guidance for policymakers on best practices to mitigate pandemic-related trade risks, support trade facilitation and logistics, and implement trade policy in a time of crisis.

Managing Risk and Facilitating Trade in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maintaining trade flows as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty.

Some countries are closing border crossings and implementing protectionist measures such as restricting exports of critical medical supplies. Although these measures may in the short-term provide some immediate reduction in the spread of the disease, in the medium term they may undermine health protection, as countries lose access to essential products to fight the pandemic. Instead, governments should refrain from introducing new barriers to trade and consider removing import tariffs and other taxes at the border on critical medical equipment and products, including food, to support the health response.

Trade facilitation measures can contribute to the response to the crisis by expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit. The World Bank Group provides guidance and technical assistance to developing and least developed countries to implement best practices to facilitate the free flow of goods.

Download the Guideline here!

Do’s and Don’ts of Trade Policy in Response to COVID-19

Despite the initial inclination of policy makers to close borders, maintaining trade flows during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial. Trade in both goods and services will play a key role in overcoming the pandemic and limiting its impact in the following ways:

  • by providing access to essential medical goods (including material inputs for their production) and services to help contain the pandemic and treat those affected,
  • ensuring access to food throughout the world,
  • providing farmers with necessary inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, equipment, veterinary products)for the next harvest,
  • by supporting jobs and maintaining economic activity in the face of a global recession. Substantialdisruption to regional and global value chains will reduce employment and increase poverty.Trade policies will therefore be an essential instrument in the management of the crisis.

Trade policy reforms, such as tariff reductions, can contribute:

  • to reducing the cost and improving the availability of COVID-19 goods and services,
  • to reducing tax and administrative burdens on importers and exporters,
  • to reducing the cost of food and other products heavily consumed by the poor and contributing to themacro-economic measures introduced to limit the negative economic and social impact of the COVID-19 related downturn,
  • to supporting the eventual economic recovery and building resilience to future crises.

Governments with industries producing COVID-19 medical goods or food staples can further contribute by committing to refrain from limiting exports through bans or taxes. If export restrictions must be used, then they should be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary.Measures to streamline trade procedures and facilitate trade at borders can contribute to the response to the crisis by expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and enabling exchange of services.

Reforms can be designed to reduce the need for close contact between traders, transporters and border officials so as to protect stakeholders and limit the spread of the virus, while maintaining essential assessments to ensure revenue, health and security. Interventions to sustain and enhance the efficiency of logistics operations may also be critical in avoiding substantial disruption to distribution networks and hence to regional and global value chains.

Download the Guideline here!

Trade in Critical COVID-19 Products

The covid-19 pandemic is increasingly a concern for developing countries. Using a new database on trade in covid-19 relevant products, this paper looks at the role of trade policy to address the looming health crisis in developing countries with highest numbers of recorded cases. It shows that export restrictions by leading producers could cause significant disruption in supplies and contribute to price increases. Tariffs and other restrictions to imports further impair the flow of critical products to developing countries. 

Download the Guideline here!

Also view the Blog post – Viral protectionism in the time of coronavirus

Source: World Bank, 1April, 2020

Digital Trade Standards Initiative launches under the umbrella of ICC

ICC has launched the Digital Trade Standards Initiative (DSI) – a collaborative cross-industry effort to enable the standardisation of digital trade.

The ICC Digital Trade Standards Initiative (DSI) will build on work done by various likeminded initiatives, many of which aim to digitise trade, notably through the development of open trade and technology standards to promote interoperability.

The ICC DSI will promote greater economic inclusion through the development of open trade standards. This will facilitate technical interoperability among the variety of blockchain-based networks and technology platforms that have entered the trade space over the past two years.

“Universal standards will connect existing digital islands and enable market forces to improve customer experience,” said ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO. “As a leading and neutral voice in the industry, it made sense to bring this project under the umbrella of ICC. This will allow the ICC DSI to lead and coordinate efforts in developing standards and protocols to digitise trade.”

The ICC DSI is unique among trade digitisation initiatives due to its collective nature. Too often, digitisation is enacted through bilateral agreements between institutions that require members to run on the same platform. This has resulted in siloed data and bespoke trade and trade finance processes.

“The ICC DSI seeks to coordinate all parties in the standardisation of data formats and processes, rather than duplicate existing efforts. In turn, membership will be open to all organisations across industries and geographies supporting the project’s core mandate, including existing industry associations and initiatives,” explained Steven Beck, Head of Trade Finance at the Asian Development Bank.

The ICC DSI will be supported by seed-funding committed by the Asian Development Bank and the Government of Singapore, in addition to ICC’s support. The ICC DSI will be run as an independent entity out of the recently-established ICC Centre for Future Trade.

“We have seen the tremendous impact of technology in growing businesses and facilitating international trade,” said Gina Lim, Director of Financing Ecosystem Development at Enterprise Singapore. “The ICC DSI will promote greater adoption of technology within the trade ecosystem and facilitate greater inclusiveness for small businesses. We are excited for the establishment of the ICC DSI office in Singapore and look forward to working with our global partners across geographies and sectors.”

ICC anticipates the implementation of a full-time management team, and a global and diverse steering committee to provide guidance and set priorities for the project’s development.

ICC has opened the recruitment process to hire a managing director to lead operations within the ICC DSI, with an official launch event to follow once this first process completed.

Source: ICC webpage, 4 March 2020