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Northern Powerhouse European Union

Paperless trade planned for exporters

Small businesses will in future be able to trade more cheaply and easily around the world thanks to new plans to replace physical paperwork with super-fast electronic documentation.


A new Electronic Trade Documents Bill, introduced in Parliament in October, aims to remove all legal requirements for commercial trade documents to be handled on paper, giving UK businesses more choice and flexibility in how they trade.

International trade still relies to a large extent on a specialist category of trade document which must be physically transferred from person to person. Around 28.5 billion paper trade documents are currently printed and flown around the world ever year.

It is hoped putting digital trade documents on the same legal footing as their paper-based equivalents will significantly reduce administration costs and cut contract processing times from between 7-10 days to as little as 20 seconds – making overseas trade easier and more attractive for small businesses.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has previously estimated that SMEs could see a 13 per cent increase in international business if trade is digitised.

However, the transition to fully digitised trade will not happen overnight. The Electronic Trade Documents Bill still needs to go through the House of Lords and House of Commons before passing into law, and it will take time for trade systems to adapt.

To help businesses prepare, the ICC has established a Centre for Digital Trade & Innovation (C4DTI) in Teesside, which is developing training courses for businesses

Chris Southworth, Secretary-General of ICC UK, said:

“We know from the evidence that there are terrific economic gains to be made for trade if companies digitalise systems and remove paper but this is not something that will happen overnight. That is why the C4DTI has been established, to align efforts across government and the private sector and accelerate transformation across the trade system.”

For one-to-one support to explore international trade opportunities for your business, contact our Manufacturing Team today.

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