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United Kingdom: Electronic Trade Documents Bill Introduced in House of Lords

The Electronic Trade Documents bill was introduced in the United Kingdom’s (U.K.’s) House of Lords on October 12, 2022. If enacted, the bill would provide digital trade documents with the same legal status as paper documents. The bill, which is based on recommendations in a report commissioned by the government and published by the Law Commission in March 2022, would enable certain electronic trade documents to have the same legal standing as physical documents, allowing them to be “possessed” in the same way. To meet the requirements of the bill, an electronic document would have to be identifiable and distinguishable, be protected against unauthorized alterations, allow only one party to exercise control of the document at any time, and allow the party able to exercise control of the document to demonstrate they can do so. In addition, once the document has been transferred, the previous holder would have to be fully divested of the document and not be able to make further changes. The Law Commission anticipates these requirements could be met through the use of blockchain on distributed ledger technology. The bill is short, with seven sections set out over four pages, but if enacted, the ramifications on the U.K. economy would be significant. International trade is worth around 1.27 trillion pounds (about US$1.46 trillion) to the U.K. and generates billions of paper documents a year. The government anticipates this bill would reduce some of the 28.5 billion paper trade documents used daily for trade, reduce bureaucracy, lower administrative costs, and provide a boost of 1.14 billion pounds (about US$1.32 billion) to U.K. businesses. The government also believes that the bill would decrease trade-processing times from seven-to-10 days to 20 seconds. The current laws on trade documents are based on the Bills of Exchange Act 1882 and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992 , and require the use of physical documents for international trade, such as bills of lading that provide holders with a right to the goods described in the bill. In 2020 alone, it was estimated that 16 million original bills of lading were issued, with 99% of these being paper documents. The laws of England and Wales  as they currently stand “[do] not recognize the possession of intangible things.” The Law Commission stated that the law is clearly archaic, inefficient, and wholly unsuited to a world in which processes and transactions are increasingly in digital form. Allowing for electronic versions of certain trade documents could lead to significant cost savings and efficiencies, together with improvements in information management and security. Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress December 15, 2022 Read more Global Legal Monitor articles . shares this Contents always with License.

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