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Today the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) announced a commitment for its members to transition from paper bills of lading to electronic bills of lading by 2030.

The switch is estimated to save around $6.5 billion in direct costs for stakeholders, which could enable $30-40 billion in global trade growth per year.

The bill of lading is one of the most important trade documents in container shipping. It functions as a document of title, a receipt for shipped goods and a record of agreed terms and conditions. 

Ocean carriers issue around 45 million bills of lading a year. In 2021, only 1.2% of these were electronic.

Manual, paper-based processes are time-consuming, expensive and environmentally unsustainable for stakeholders along complex supply chains. Paper-based processes break down when cargo in ports cannot be gated out because original bills of lading or title documents fail to arrive or cannot be manually processed in time. 

In contrast, digital processes enable data to flow instantly and securely, reducing delays and waste.

Transforming document exchange through the eBL will accelerate digitalisation to benefit customers, banks, customs/government authorities, providers of ocean shipping services and all maritime supply chain stakeholders.

Thomas Bagge, chief executive officer, DCSA said, “The digitalisation of international trade holds vast potential for the world economy by reducing friction and, as trade brings prosperity and the eBL will further enable trade, helping bring millions out of poverty. Document digitalisation has the power to transform international trade and requires collaboration from all stakeholders.”

The signatories to today’s commitment said:

Soren Toft, CEO, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, “I am delighted that carriers are taking this big step towards paperless trade. Our industry needs to accelerate digitalisation to help make shipping more efficient, more secure and a better experience for our customers. On top of these benefits, moving to 100% eBL will contribute towards our climate goals, as we move towards net zero 2050.”

Vincent Clerc, CEO A.P. Moller-Maersk, “This is an important step in the journey towards creating a digital standard of one of the most cost heavy and troublesome components in the shipping industry. A fully digitised bill of lading enables a more seamless customer experience across the supply chain and in turn it will help democratise trade and reduce time and costs for all involved parties. The need for digitisation in logistics is urgent, and the industry needs to speed up the process.”

Olivier Nivoix, group executive vice-president, shipping, CMA CGM Group, “The 100%eBL goal is an important milestone for the shipping industry, paving the way for the digitization of the entire value chain. It will help reduce lead times and costs, improve customer satisfaction and achieve CSR goals. As a company committed to a reliable, transparent and sustainable supply chain, CMA CGM will play an active role in this initiative.”

Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO, Hapag-Lloyd, “We have been offering our customers electronic bills of lading since last year to simplify and streamline document handling for all stakeholders and to reduce our carbon footprint. The feedback from our customers has been very positive. The target of having 100% eBL by 2030 is an important part of digitalising global supply chains and will require a collective effort from the industry to make it a reality.”

Jeremy Nixon, CEO, ONE, “With digitisation gaining ground ever faster, it is important that the maritime industry continues to evolve and adapt by embracing new global standards and transaction efficiency. A significant acceleration in eBL usage will pave the way for ever greater interoperability across global supply chains. As ONE, we are pleased to be a key part of this and to provide overall a better customer service experience.”

Eric Hsieh, president, Evergreen Marine, “Evergreen is committed to the advantages offered by a universal eBL system —efficiency, innovation, reliability, sustainability. Each party will play a critical role in enabling the transition to digital trade documentation, and Evergreen is proud to be doing its part to help get us there.”

Cheng-Mount Cheng, chairman and CEO, Yang Ming: “Digitalising the bills of lading is an inevitable trend that will undoubtedly bring benefits to the supply chain. However, the transformation requires the support from all stakeholders and carriers. Yang Ming recognises DCSA’s efforts to accelerate maritime digitisation, and is proud to be a part of the 100% eBL goal.”

Kim, Kyung Bae, president and CEO, HMM, “I am pleased to join the collaborative effort on the pathway to the digitalization of the shipping industry. Adopting electronic bills of lading will be a significant milestone in improving efficiency, reducing costs and enhancing security in the transportation service.”

Eli Glickman, president and CEO, ZIM, “As an innovation-driven company we were very proud to pioneer electronic Bills of Lading as early as 2017, on our WAVE platform. Since then, we have come a long way, digitalising documentation for customers in many countries.”