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France joins MLETR club, recognising ‘Titre Transférable Électronique’

I’ll forgive you if you missed this story. 

It’s quite easy to overlook a small legislative change with a significant impact in France and around the world, especially when the Olympic rings were majestically lifted under the Eiffel Tower in preparation for the 2024 Olympics. 

In the same week, World War II veterans celebrated freedom through various D-Day memorials and landings in Normandy and throughout northern France. 

Introduced by Deputy Alexandre Holroyd, this law transposes the UNCITRAL MLETR into a legislative framework aimed at increasing business financing and strengthening France’s attractiveness in the context of international trade.

The law, initially approved by the National Assembly in April, and by the French Senate in May, recognises electronic trade documents, known as ‘Titre Transférable Électronique’, as legally equivalent to their paper counterparts. 

Article 6 of the adopted law specifically addresses the legal recognition of ‘Titre Transférable Électronique,’ ensuring these electronic documents have the same legal standing as paper-based equivalents, by amending several codes outlined in its Title II, such as commerce, monetary, financial, insurance and transport codes.

France joins Belize, Germany, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Timor Leste, United Kingdom and USA, as countries who have either passed or enacted MLETR legislation through their relevant parliamentary or executive process to become law and enter into force, according to ICC DSI’s MLETR tracker.

What is MLETR?

MLETR is an initiative by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) designed to facilitate the use of electronic documents in trade. 

MLETR enables the legal use of electronic versions of transferable documents and instruments, such as bills of lading, promissory notes, and warehouse receipts, which traditionally rely on paper-based processes. 

This model law provides a framework for the digitalisation of trade documents, ensuring they hold the same legal validity as their paper counterparts, thereby enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving security in international trade transactions.

The main objective of adopting MLETR is to support the international trade ecosystem by providing a solid legal framework for electronic transferable records. 

By transitioning to digital solutions, French SMEs and mid-sized companies can better compete globally, facilitating quicker transaction times and reducing errors in cross-border transactions.

France’s adoption of MLETR is part of a broader effort to harmonise digital trade practices around title trade documents around the world.

The adoption is also expected to stimulate economic growth by making France a more attractive place to transact, trade and finance, while supporting innovation and sustainability.

This effort aims to harmonise definitions, standards, and data sharing across borders to facilitate the legal use of electronic trade documents, thereby reducing costs and improving efficiency in trade finance.

A rapid law adoption of MLETR

France’s adoption of MLETR follows the UK’s recent enactment of the Electronic Trade Documents Act, signed into law in September 2024 by King Charles III. 

The rapid passage of this law in France shows the concerted efforts of the international trade and trade finance community, proving that united public and private sectors can drive reform.

The French government undertook a comprehensive review to identify necessary regulatory changes, which included drafting a white paper addressing both the legal and business aspects of MLETR.

The result of this, a white paper, involved contributions from experts like UNCITRAL’s Legal Officer, Luca Castellani, who played an important role in outlining the implications and benefits of adopting electronic transferable records. 

Castellani said, “The legislative action by France is significant in two ways. It shows that MLETR is truly compatible with all legal systems and traditions, and it represents the first example of coordination between MLETR and EU legislation like the eIDAS and eFTI regulations. Looking also at the forthcoming implementing regulation, I believe that many countries will take inspiration from this major French legislative effort.”

The process also involved extensive consultations with industry stakeholders such as ICC France, including financial institutions and trade bodies, to ensure the framework was robust and could be implemented. 

The adoption of MLETR is expected to stimulate economic growth by attracting more investment into French enterprises, fostering innovation, and supporting the transition to paperless trade. 

The law is technologically neutral, allowing the use of various digital tools and platforms, such as distributed ledger technology (DLT), in order to manage electronic transferable records.

Digital trade documents are expected to cut transaction processing costs by up to 50%, with projected savings for France reaching €823 million within the first decade of implementation.

Now comes implementation and adoption. MLETR in France will require robust technological solutions and a supportive regulatory environment.

How it happened

The adoption of MLETR in France was a structured process involving multiple legislative steps and consultations. 

Initially, Deputy Alexandre Holroyd led the initiative to incorporate MLETR into a broader legislative framework aimed at enhancing the financial sector. 

The process began with the proposal’s approval by the National Assembly in April 2024, followed by the Senate’s endorsement in May. 

The law’s passage was marked by its formal adoption on June 5, 2024.

Emmanuelle Butaud-Stubbs, Secretary General of ICC France, said, “We are delighted with the adoption of the law, which allows France to join the club of pioneering countries in the digitisation of international trade finance, marking a significant and concrete milestone that will enable players in international trade finance – including bankers, corporations, SMEs, Trade Tech companies, and insurers – to accelerate their digital transformation.”

Next up: Government decree to establish reliable systems for title tracking

In the coming weeks, the French government will issue a decree to establish reliable methods for title identification, holder verification, exclusive control, and title history tracking. 

This decree will support various implementation methods, such as a centralised registry, establishing platforms, and tracking technologies.

If chosen, the registry would be certified or recognised as ‘trustworthy’ by all domestic and international transaction parties.

Exploring other technologies and process changes such as the use cases for embedded tokens and using or accepting secure electronic signatures will also be explored.

To ensure the widespread adoption of digital trade documents, the French government is exploring for the creation of interoperable systems.

These systems could enable various digital platforms and digital registries to communicate and work together seamlessly, enhancing the efficiency and security of trade finance transactions.

In other countries such as the UK, the implementation of MLETR has been left to the private sector to determine.

The ICC Digital Standards Initiative (ICC DSI) is also developing a framework for assessing reliability of systems that is being piloted by platforms and service providers. 

Pamela Mar, DSI Managing Director, said, “Our aim is to develop a core framework that can then be adopted by countries, users, or other industry bodies as needed.  A single framework applied globally could ensure that systems are robust enough to meet MLETR, while also not adding undue burden to enterprises due to national variances”.

Key priorities: interoperability, governance, and use case development

The MLETR framework is being adopted by various markets worldwide, aiming for a standardised approach to digital trade documents, which enhances global trade efficiency and reduces barriers.

France is contributing to ongoing discussions within the G7 and G20 forums, advocating for global standards in the digitalisation of trade documents.

Under India’s Presidency, the G20’s trade and investment working group emphasised the importance of enabling legislation for digital trade.

Philippe Henry, CEO of Dewenson Partners & Senior Advisor to Paris Europlace, said, “The French government’s commitment to digital trade is further demonstrated by its advocacy for interoperable systems. These systems are crucial for ensuring that different digital platforms can communicate effectively, a key factor in the successful implementation of MLETR.”

The legal framework established by MLETR supports the principles of functional equivalence and reliability, ensuring that electronic records can replace paper documents without compromising their legal effectiveness or security.

Patrik Zekkar, CEO, Enigio, said, “We are thrilled to see France leading the way, with the adoption of an MLETR legal framework, demonstrating their passion and commitment to a paperless trade in the 21st century. Enigio’s trace:original technology is prepared to facilitate the move from paper to digital for all parties involved in a trade flow, and we are eager to play a role in this transformation with our reliable and interoperable solution for freely transferable electronic documents and data.”

The broader context of MLETR adoption includes efforts by various countries to harmonise digital trade practices. 

The UK’s recent legislation, the Electronic Trade Documents Act, serves as a parallel to France’s MLETR adoption. 

Both pieces of legislation highlight the importance of recognising electronic versions of title documents such as promissory notes, Bills of Lading and warehouse receipts, as legally equivalent to paper.

For now, scalability and adoption are required, to ensure these digital trade instruments are used to their advantage and contribute to creating a business friendly environment favorable to importers, exporters and supply chain actors.

It is also the French intention to accelerate discussions with the new European Commission post-election in July 2024 on the role of an EU Trade Services governance with four key objectives:

  • Guarantee the existence of secure technological solutions accessible to the whole ecosystem, especially banks and businesses;
  • Support the creation of a conducive framework for digitization of international trade documents at European Union level, notably when it comes to certification and management of open and interoperable ledgers;
  • Foster the European TradeTech ecosystem, the solutions of which are often mature and can help achieve the goals of the reform;
  • Ensure that technical standards and requirements are clear and normative, as with PSD2 on payments or e-FTI on electronic information on the transport of goods.

The International Trade & Forfaiting Association, ITFA hosted a Paris event, in collaboration with A&O Shearman, updating industry participants on the French Law by Europlace and addressing technological gray areas of the MLETR, such as what reliable systems are and how such systems should interoperate. 

Andre Casterman, chair of the Fintech Committee at the ITFA, said, “Members of the ITFA Fintech Committee have engaged with Paris Europlace’s MLETR working group since Q2 2022 to demonstrate technology readiness and use cases. Our key message has been around the opportunities offered by the e-bill of exchange and e-promissory note. Our next priority is to help French banks embrace the new legal and technology options to develop their own product strategy and extend the benefits to their clients.”

As other countries look to adopt similar measures, France’s experience with MLETR will provide valuable insights into the benefits and challenges of digitalising trade.

As the French National Assembly adopts MLETR, it’s a moment of both reflection and celebration. 

While preparations for the 2024 Olympics bring a sense of global unity and excitement, and D-Day memorials honour the sacrifices made for freedom, France’s commitment to innovation in trade finance marks another step forward. 

With France exporting over 299 million bottles of champagne in 2023, this milestone is certainly a moment to raise a glass and toast to a slightly more paperless future.