India will be one of the first countries to use the paperless International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association (FIATA) multimodal bill of lading (eFBL), which is expected to promote ease of doing business by saving shippers time and money.

A bill of lading (BoL) is a legal document issued by a transportation company to a shipper that details the type, quantity, and destination of the ferried goods. It is used in international trade to ensure exporters are paid and importers receive the merchandise. The eFBL is a multimodal negotiable standard BoL, set up by FIATA, for freight-forwarders acting as multimodal transport operators. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) logo in the document signifies its conformity with UNCTAD/ICC rules.

Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal on Saturday launched the eFBL at the 24th Biennial Convention of Federation of Freight Forwarders Association of India (FFFAI) in Chennai.

AV Vijayakumar, former chairman of FFFAI, which will issue the eFBL document in India, said the electronic mode will cut delays while ensuring trust and security among various stakeholders. The validity of the document and the shipper’s identity can be verified at any time. The e-document will also save on paper and courier services, helping achieve sustainability goals, he said.

In its paper form the BoL takes three to four days to move from seller to buyer. The eFBL, on the other hand, can be generated within minutes and emailed securely, or integrated into existing business applications, or even printed, he added.

Based on blockchain technology, the eFBL offers transparency, security and accountability in the supply chain. According to FIATA, the ‘normal eBoL’ is based on electronic data interchange technology and records all transfers of goods titles in a centralised registry. ‘Blockchain eBoL’ uses blockchain technology, allowing carrier, consignor, consignee, bank and other participants to complete and supervise the issuing, endorsing and surrendering process of BoL at the same time.

Pramod Sant, former head of import, export and customs at Siemens Ltd, said, “For an exporter, the eFBL will ensure the BoL is received and negotiated quicker, resulting in a faster realisation.”

Agreeing with Sant, Vittal Raj, an expert on cyber security, said the eFBL will enable partners across the international trade ecosystem to benefit in terms of speed, authenticity, cost of operations and overall efficiencies. However, the technologies powering a digitised trade ecosystem — such as a central dematerialised BoL repository, encryption, blockchain, and revamping of existing applications to seamlessly adopt open data standards — would need to efficiently handle the surge in eBoL and the associated trade document volumes, besides overcoming user technology and adoption challenges, and the need for universal acceptance of a common regulatory framework.

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