UK businesses back Britain’s plan for digital trade borders

UK businesses have given a thumbs up to changes set to digitalise Britain’s trade borders and make the UK the third country in the world able to accept electronic trade documents. This move will take the UK a further step towards having a world-leading border system that is vital for the improvement of the efficiency and sustainability of international trade for generations to come.

Research from a recent poll, commissioned by The Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT) finds that the majority of UK businesses welcome this move to digital trade.

The poll finds that 75% of businesses who attended a recent IOE&IT event on the ETDA believe it will have a positive impact on their business, 29% of which feel it will have a ‘very positive impact’. A quarter say it will have a neutral impact – and, significantly, none believe it will have a negative impact on their business.

The Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA) came into force last month and will allow for key trade documents, such as bills of lading and bills of exchange, to be accepted in both paper and electronic format at the border and allowing for a streamlined process of the movement of goods.

What is the Electronic Trade Documents Act?

Following Royal Assent on 20th July this year, the ETDA became part of UK law and it came into force from the 20th September, meaning that digital documents will have the same legal recognition as hard-copy versions. The change will update outdated legacy trade processes and bring the UK alongside Singapore and the United Arab Emirates as a forerunner for this next chapter for international trade.

The EDTA aims to improve efficiency and streamline global trade at the UK border, to bring significant cost benefits for the UK. Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy, Paul Scully has commented that UK traders could save up to £1.1bn over the next decade thanks to the Act.

The IOE&IT poll further reveals that when asked what British businesses see as the biggest opportunities from the new Act coming into force, top of the list is increased speed and efficiency (65%), followed by benefits in supply chain visibility and security (22%).

However, data security and nervousness around new technology still remains a concern for UK businesses, as the poll reveals 25% of business owners see data security as one of the biggest challenges of digital trade and nearly 30% worry about overcoming obstacles around IT skills and implementation. The biggest challenge cited around moving to digital trade, however, is ‘ensuring partners are on board’ (36%) – suggesting that there is still work to be done on making sure the transition to a dual system of paper and electronic documents is clear for all parties involved.

Commenting on the research, Director General of the IOE&IT Marco Forgione said: “It is great to see such overwhelming support for the incoming Electronic Trade Documents Act, and the UK’s trailblazing approach to digital trade.

“This new system will be a major boost to businesses. Trade will become much more efficient and cost-effective thanks to these changes. Whilst it is understandable that some businesses will have concerns about the new processes coming into place, and there may be potential ‘first-mover’ problems to overcome, we are eager to ensure these new streamlined processes are adopted by smaller businesses in the UK, not just the big corporates.

“Then there’s the longer-term issue of adoption on a global scale. To achieve a truly international trade ecosystem in the future, it is essential for other countries not only to follow, but to collaborate and keep each other informed about the progress of adoption of digital trade practices.

“We will continue our work with members to ensure business owners, especially those operating further down the supply chain, feel informed and confident about the move to digital trade and understand how to best prepare their business for the future with this new system.”