The new UK Electronic Trade Documents Act comes into effect

26 September 2023

One of the key initiatives of the current international reforms in trade facilitation and modernisation is the move to ‘digitise’ the documents used in the supply chain leaving behind centuries of practice relying on use of certain paper documents.

The United Kingdom (UK) is one country advancing on the trade reforms and, in doing so, introduced legislation to allow for the adoption of a new suite of electronic trade documents in lieu of paper documents. Earlier commentary on the UK legislation has been discussed in a previous article. That proposed legislation was subject to a subsequent Parliamentary review process, not dissimilar to the Australian process, which has now passed with the legislation having commenced on 20 September 2023 as the Electronic Trade Documents Act 2023 (UK Act). Further details of the UK Act, including its contents, explanatory notes and additional resources, can be found here.

The commencement of the UK Act is a source of some optimism for those working on the trade facilitation and modernisation agenda throughout the world. After all, the UK is the source of many international practices based on paper documentation. The reliance of the UK Act on provisions contained in the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records 2017 (MLETR) supports the adoption of the MLETR in other jurisdictions. A summary of the MLETR can be found here. Movement by the UK is significant in many historical and practical ways. Adoption of the concepts behind MLETR is certainly on the trade reform agenda in Australia and has been the subject of consideration in work undertaken by the Simplified Trade System (STS) Implementation Taskforce, including discussion at the recent STS Summit. Further, many of Australia’s international agreements and Free Trade Agreements explicitly include provisions supporting trade facilitation and digital trade which would also support legislative reform based on MLTER, such as that adopted in the UK Act.

The movement towards electronic documentation and electronic transactions in trade as reflected in MLETR is also consistent with other initiatives including the issue of the ‘Best Practice Guide on Electronic Reporting’ (Guide), entitled ‘Embracing Paperless Trade’, issued by International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA). The Guide was developed by the Advisory Body on Legal Matters of FIATA, of which Andrew Hudson, Customs & Trade Partner at Rigby Cooke Lawyers, is a member representing the International Forwarders and Customs Brokers Association of Australia (IFCBAA). The Guide is a valuable item in the toolbox of those involved in the current trade reform agenda, whether in Australia or elsewhere, to be considered alongside other initiatives in the European Union and the United States. The reform agenda in the supply chain is incredibly complex and all the required intellectual property and good ideas are not confined to any one country.

IFCBAA and others in the private sector will continue to support the work of the STS Taskforce and other government agencies. We look forward to continue to provide assistance in the process.

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