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DCSA takes on eBill of Lading standardisation, calls for collaboration

The critical need for eBL

Since the first efforts to digitise bills of lading (BL) in the late 90s, the promise of an electronic bill of lading (eBL) for the container shipping industry has remained elusive. In fact, Tradelens goes so far as to call an eBL standard the “Holy Grail of global trade”. And like the Holy Grail, there are a number of obstacles on the road to attaining it. But for everyone whose business relies on getting a bill of lading from end-to-end, the effort is worth the reward. Eliminating paper from the shipping transaction will make every aspect of commercial container shipping better, faster, cheaper, more secure and environmentally friendly.

Despite the lack of a standardised approach to digitalisation, some carriers
and solution providers have continued to move forward
with proprietary eBL initiatives, albeit at a limited scale. But as André Simha, Global Chief Digital & Innovation Officer for MSC and DCSA Chairman recently noted, “The COVID-19 situation is bringing the core strengths of a standardised eBL to the fore. Cargo in ports cannot be gated out because of paper that is stuck elsewhere due to airfreight delays caused by the pandemic.”

Research shows paper bill processing costs three times as much as eBL processing

In an effort to fully understand the benefit of digitising the BL, DCSA carried out a financial modelling exercise to quantify the potential cost savings for switching from paper BL to eBL. The complexity inherent in using BL means the actual process cost for a single BL can vary widely. Nonetheless, our research1 derived a comparison that indicates the total cost of processing paper bills is almost three times that of eBLs. At a global economic growth rate of 2.4% through 20302, as forecasted by the OECD, we estimate that the industry can potentially save more than $4 billion per year if 50% eBL adoption is achieved.

IATA introduced e-Air Waybills (e-AWB) for airfreight in 2010.
At present, adoption of e-AWB is over 68%. If we start on standardising eBL now, we have reason to believe a 50% adoption rate is feasible by 2030.