Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

After 18 months of collaboration, coordination, and deliberation, international trade experts and the ICC Digital Standards Initiative (ICC DSI) have completed their Key Trade Documents and Data Elements (KTDDE) report.

The KTDDE report, chaired by Robert Beideman of GS1, collates and defines 36 key trade documents, which are vital to the health of the international trade ecosystem. Although these documents have long underpinned the trade industry, they were never harmonised, which created roadblocks for a truly interoperable system.

Though it was a long process, with “Batch 1” of the KTDDE being released in March 2023 and “Batch 2” released in November 2023, this final report marks a milestone for the ICC DSI, and the wider trade world.

Of the 36 key trade documents analysed by the ICC DSI, they broke them down into three categories.

  1. Standardised
  2. Standards exist, but without interoperability
  3. Early-stage standardisation 

Harmonisation of trade documents is a vital first step in global interoperability. Now, the path is clearer for governments and trade bodies to adopt digital trade initiatives. 

The United Kingdom, France, Germany, United States, Bahrain, Paraguay, Belize, Thailand and the Abu Dhabi Global Market have passed MLETR legislation

Now, it’s time for others to follow suit with the harmonisation of these 36 key trade documents.

Pamela Mar, Managing Director of ICC DSI, said, “Alignment of data and standards is a prerequisite to a more harmonised, connected digital trade ecosystem. This work– which really is the work of over 50 organisations active in trade standards – is a foundational step. We now need to see widespread adoption as a way to simplify and speed all trade processes, and that’s going to be a target moving forward.”

The full KTDDE report can be downloaded here

Final 15 key trade documents definitions 

Administrative Documents used in the Excise Movement Control System (ECMS): “The Administrative Documents in the Excise Movement Control System (EMCS) within the EU, including the Electronic Accompanying Document (eAD) and Simplified Accompanying Document (SAD), are at an advanced stage of digitalisation”.

Advance Ruling Application: “Advance Ruling Applications are in a transitioning stage towards digitalisation, with several WCO members implementing digital solutions. The application’s main purpose is to provide an assessment of classification, origin, or customs value before an import or export transaction”.

ATA Carnet: “The ATA Carnet is in an advanced stage of digitalisation. Its system infrastructure facilitates efficient management of temporary duty-free and tax-free importation of goods”.

Certificate of Inspection for Organic Products: “The CIO is mandatory for certifying organic products, ensuring compliance with specific organic standards of importing and exporting countries. The CIO is transitioning towards digitalisation, with both paper and digital forms currently in use”.

CITES Permit/Certificate: “The CITES Permits or Certificates process has made significant progress towards digitalisation with the introduction of the CITES electronic Permit system”.

CODEX Generic Model Official Certificate: “Food products certificates are a legal requirement in international food trade for the attestation of food safety and fair-trade practices. So far, there is limited use of certificates that are electronically issued and exchanged”.

Consignment Security Declaration: “The Consignment Security Declaration (CSD), developed by ICAO, plays a vital role in ensuring air cargo and mail security throughout the supply chain. It serves as a tool for verifying the regulatory requirement that cargo has undergone appropriate security controls and been issued with a security status”.

Dangerous Goods Declaration: “Dangerous Goods Declaration (DGD) is moving towards digital adaptation, particularly in air transport, as seen in initiatives like IATA e-DGD. However, the current diversity of dangerous goods forms across different modes of transport adds to the complexity of the transition”.

Excise Guarantee: “The Excise Guarantee, essential for securing payment of duties on excisable goods, is in the early stages of digitalisation. Typically issued by exporters/importers to government agencies, and often involving financial institutions, these guarantees are legally mandated in many countries”.

International Veterinary Certificate: “The use of veterinary certificates for international trade in live animals, hatching eggs, products of animal origin, and more has become a legal requirement to ensure that animal health requirements are fulfilled by those exporting these commodities”.

Non-preferential Certificate of Origin: “Non-preferential Certificates of Origin (CoO) are at an intermediate stage of digitalisation. While the layout is mostly standardised, the transition to digital formats is ongoing, with varying degrees of adoption across different countries”.

Phytosanitary Certificate: “The use of ePhyto electronic phytosanitary certificates for international trade in products of plant and forest origin, propagation material and seeds is a legal requirement under the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to ensure that exported products meet plant health and food safety requirements”.

Preferential Certificate of Origin: “The digitalisation of Preferential Certificates of Origin (PCoO) faces challenges due to the complex legal framework of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), differing standards, and the trend towards self-certification”.

TIR Carnet: “The TIR Carnet, under the TIR Convention, is in a moderately advanced stage of digitalisation. It operates under a well-established international system, allowing goods to travel across borders with minimal customs interference”.

Transit Accompanying Document: “The Transit Accompanying Document (TAD) in Union Transit (UT) and Common Transit—a mandatory document for goods in transit within the EU and in Common Transit countries, typically accompanied by a guarantee letter—is at a high stage of digitalisation”.

Industry analysis and recommendations 

The ICC DSI and its industry partners have identified four key factors that are essential for the next steps of trade digitalisation.

  1. Standardisation of electronic documentation
  2. Legislative and regulatory support
  3. Industry convergence and engagement
  4. Adoption at scale

Without these four steps mentioned above, widespread digitalisation is unlikely to occur. While harmonising the 36 key documents is a crucial first step, it cannot be done in a vacuum. Further industry collaboration is needed, otherwise progress will once again stall on the digital innovation front.

However, the ICC DSI has recommendations for realistic next steps to ensure that the industry successfully capitalises on the current progress. 

  1. Active participation in digital infrastructure: In order for true interoperability, all actors in the international trade space must participate in the development and fine tuning of digital infrastructure. 
  2. Streamlining data exchange with global data standards: Using the best practices for Key Data Elements, outlined in the KTDDE Glossary, it can help leverage standardisation to ensure data exchanges are uniform across borders.
  3. Addressing digital identity challenges: Standards like ISO 17442, ISO/IEC 15459 and the ISO Technical Report ISO/TR 6039:2023 already exist, and if used properly, can help with legal identification. 
  4. Regulator collaboration and uniform rules for digital information sharing: Governments and regulatory bodies across the world need to collaborate to share best practices and help establish forward-looking frameworks for digital trade.
  5. Digital-first strategy and ecosystem-wide engagement: Not all trade players will be at the same digital development point. Many smaller businesses will need more help advancing digitalisation. The important point is advancing a digital-first ecosystem, where all stakeholders contribute to the transition, regardless of individual standing.

The final ICC DSI KTDDE report on all 36 Key Document and Data Elements is a clear step forward for the international trade community. Without establishing a baseline of knowledge and harmonisation, it would be impossible to take significant steps forward.

But the job does not stop here. The ICC DSI gave clear recommendations and analysis of what needs to happen next in order to truly take advantage of the current digitalisation momentum. 

The KTDDE report has done its job, now, it is on the industry to run with it.