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Digital Container Shipping Association members herald commitment to eBL by 2030

With an eye on switching to a fully standardized electronic bill of lading (eBL) by 2030, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) recently announced its nine ocean carrier members have pledged to commit to 100% adoption of an eBL, which will be based on DCSA standards.

Based in Amsterdam, the DCSA is a neutral, non-profit group comprised of major ocean carriers, with a focus on digitizing and standardizing the container shipping sector, as well as increasing the transparency of container transportation services. The organization’s open-source standards are based on input from its member carriers, industry stakeholders, and technology experts from other sectors. Its ocean container carrier members include: MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, ONE, Evergreen, Yang Ming, HMM and ZIM.  

DCSA said that shifting from the transfer of physical paper bills of lading could result in saving $6.5 billion in direct costs for stakeholders, and also drive $30 billion-to-$40 billion in annual global trade growth, while also transforming the customer experience and improve sustainability efforts.

DCSA CEO Thomas Bagge told LM that the organization’s work on digital trade, which is broader than only the eBL, was launched in March 2020, at the onset of the pandemic.

“Several carriers had cargo in their possession, which could not be gated out of the terminals due to the physical bill of lading not having arrived,” he said. “There was a realization the digital bills of lading could alleviate this problem.”

When asked what the main benefits of the eBL are for shippers, Bagge explained that there are multiple benefits.

“First and foremost, it provides a more contemporary customer experience,” he said. “Secondly, it will reduce transaction cost for the entire ecosystem, and lastly—albeit marginally—it will help shippers reduce their scope 3 emissions.”

As for how the eBL, using DCSA standards works, Bagge noted that, today, the paper bill of lading issued by carriers contains unstructured data, and it is transported to and processed by customers of carriers, banks, and customs, among other parties.

“A majority of the information found on a bill of lading is needed in the end-to-end documentation process, from booking to shipment release,” he said. “This means data must be re-entered along the document journey, costing time and potentially causing errors. When carriers issue the eBL using DCSA standards, data is standardized and passed along from system to system via an API, increasing efficiency and data quality.”

What’s more, he noted that 100% adoption of the eBL will also help to fight crime.

“Many customs administration offices across the globe have already implemented digital customs systems for (advanced) cargo screening,” he said. “However, the submission of that data requires manual ‘translation’ and manual entering of data into customs systems. This is not only burdensome to the private sector, it leads to a loss of data quality for customs and other border authorities who are reliant on that data for protecting society from terrorism, smuggling, fraud and other criminal behavior. By using an eBL in true digital form, data quality will improve and the data can be real-time. With 100% eBL adoption, a McKinsey study predicts illegal trade could be reduced by 10-15% globally.”

Looking ahead, Bagge said that as part of its Digital Trade initiative, DCSA has released data and process standards for the booking request and confirmation, shipping instructions and the bill of lading. He said that subsequent releases will include data and process standards and API definitions for arrival notice and shipment release. 

“DCSA is also expanding the documentation standards to cover non-standard cargo, such as reefer and dangerous goods, and validating the need for other standards,” he said. “DCSA will communicate further in 2023 regarding its plans in these areas together with steps to enable adoption, which will include a knowledge kit and other tools designed to support shippers, banks, freight forwarders and other supply chain stakeholders.”

Article Topics

Global Trade
Ocean Freight
Bill of Lading
Digital Container Shipping Association
electronic bill of lading
Global Trade
Ocean Freight
Ocean Shipping
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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis.
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