Electronic Trade Documents Act comes into force in UK

The Electronic Trade Documents Act came into force yesterday September 20th in the UK. The International Group noted that this gave legal recognition in English law to electronic trade documents, including electronic bills of lading.

The Act was preceded in 2022 by the UK Law Commission’s Report on Electronic trade documents, which was the culmination of an extensive consultation process with stakeholders, including the International Group. The Act reflects the recommendations of the Law Commission: that the law should be reformed so that certain electronic trade documents, including electronic bills of lading, can be have the same legal recognition and functionality as their paper counterparts.

The International Group said that it welcomed “this significant legislative development”, which comes soon after the adoption by Singapore of similar legislation, in the form of the Singapore Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Act 2021. Both sets of legislation meet the requirements of the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR ), a uniform model law adopted by the UN Commission on International Trade law (UNCITRAL) in 2018.

However, the UK and Singapore are somewhat outliers here, in that MLETR has only been adopted by a handful of international nations.

Group Club Rules provide that liabilities arising in respect of the carriage of cargo under paperless trading systems are covered, provided that the system has first been approved by the International Group. Since February 20th 2010 the Group has approved 10 electronic systems, of which eight are still functioning. The high-profile IBM-Maersk collaboration TradeLens ceased operation earlier this year.

The International Group said that, in light of the Act, it was reviewing its approach to electronic bills of lading.

“At the same time, we continue our dialogue with industry stakeholders to assist in managing the transition from a private contractual environment to one recognised under national laws, which will serve for the benefit of the wider international shipping and trade community.”