Government’s assessment of the Electronic Trade Documents Bill

The Electronic Trade Documents Bill is intended to make digital documentation legally recognised, reduce administration costs and make it easier for UK businesses to buy and sell internationally.

Assuming that it becomes law, it is estimated to create £1.14 billion in net benefits to the UK over a 10-year period.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DDCMS) has published an economic assessment of the Bill which can be found here.

This includes the policy rationale, the monetised costs and benefits, the wider impacts and the plan for monitoring and evaluation of the introduction of the proposed legislation.

It explains that the operation of many documents important to international trade, including bills of lading and bills of exchange, is premised on their possession. However, English law — as with many other trade jurisdictions around the world — does not currently recognise intangible things as being amenable to possession.

This means that electronic forms of trade documentation, which are considered to be intangible, cannot be possessed and cannot therefore be used in the same way as their paper equivalents.

Given that technology has now developed which can provide an electronic equivalent of a paper trade document, the Bill is intended to correct this problem, allowing electronic trade documents to have the same legal effects as their paper equivalents.

“Without legislative change,” the DDCMS notes, “trade will continue to be paper-based and therefore more costly, complex, and time-consuming than it otherwise could be.”

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