Major ocean carriers have committed to a standardized 100% electronic bill of lading (eBL) adoption by 2030 — a major step in the digitalization efforts of the shipping industry.
The nine ocean carrier members of the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) will convert 50% of original bills of lading to digital within five years before the full adoption of eBLs based on DCSA standards by 2030 in a bid to accelerate the digitalisation of container trade.
The DCSA members are MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), A.P. Moller -Maersk (Maersk), CMA CGM Group (CMA CGM), Hapag-Lloyd, Ocean Network Express (ONE), Evergreen Marine, Yang Ming, HMM, and Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd (ZIM).
US$6.5B direct savings from eBLs
"Switching away from the transfer of physical paper bills of lading could save US$6.5 billion in direct costs for stakeholders, enable US$30-US$40 billion in annual global trade growth, transform the customer experience and improve sustainability," DCSA said in an announcement.
The bill of lading is one of the most important trade documents in container shipping. It functions as a document of title, 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.
DCSA said manual, paper-based processes are time-consuming, expensive and environmentally unsustainable for stakeholders along complex supply chains. In the same way, it added that paper-based processes breakdown 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, it said that 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 (CEO) DCSA, lauded the deal as an "important milestone" for the industry, noting that the digitalisation of international trade holds vast potential for the world economy by reducing friction. He said the eBL would also further enable trade.
"This heralds the start of a new era in container shipping as the industry transitions to scaled automation and fully paperless trade. Document digitalisation has the power to transform international trade and requires collaboration from all stakeholders," Bagge said.