The eBL is moving closer

Development of an electronic bill of lading has long been a goal for freight forwarders and the container shipping industry, but it has been elusive, in large part due to a lack of standardisation of the document.

The bill of lading is a mainstay of the global supply chain that’s present from origin to destination and critical to customs clearance, financing and ownership of cargo.

But for as much as shipping has changed over the decades, the bill of lading (BL) is pretty much the same time-consuming document it ever was.

Participants up and down the supply chain would benefit from the days and weeks lost to paper BLs as they are printed, pouched, messengered, lost, found and waited on.

“Metro is developing the technologies and platforms that will integrate with eBL”

The container shipping information portal INTTRA, unsuccessfully attempted to develop a standardised electronic format more than a decade ago, while in 2019 the IBM/Maersk Blockchain initiative, TradeLens, claimed that it had completed a real-time pilot of its electronic bill of lading (eBL) add-on for the IBM Blockchain Platform.

The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) drives technology standards and frameworks that enable carriers to bring innovative solutions to market said the COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for a standardised industry e-bill of lading (eBL) greater than ever.

Cargo in ports sometimes can’t be gated out because paper bills of lading simply are getting stuck in a supply chain mucked up by the pandemic, according to DCSA, which argues that eliminating paper from the shipping transaction will make every aspect of container shipping better, faster, cheaper, more secure and environmentally friendly.

A number of DCSA members have reported a sharp increase in eBL adoption in an effort to keep trade moving. In addition, the International Group of P&I Clubs (IGP&I), have picked up the pace on approving eBL solution providers, with two added in the last six months to a total of six approved so far.

This month, DCSA plans to embark on an initiative to enable the open collaboration necessary for achieving full eBL adoption. As part of this initiative, DCSA wants to develop open source standards for necessary legal terms and conditions, as well as definitions and terminology to facilitate communication among customers, container carriers, regulators, financial institutions and other industry stakeholders.

The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), develop standards to streamline international trade, including for eBL.

Simon George, Metro’s Technical Solutions Director and a member of this illustrious UN forum. “Even partial eBL adoption will save £ Billions, but mass adoption of an industry-standard eBL, requires robust technology, acceptance by governments, banks and insurers as well as open collaboration. The eBL can be mapped to the IFTMCS UN/CEFACT standard and has the potential to accelerate the DCSA’s objectives, if they are open to collaboration.”