The legal status of electronic bills of lading
A report for the ICC Banking Commission
Each week the international financial press publishes articles on how developments in information technology will change the face of international trade. Banks, traders and shipping companies announce new blockchain projects. Fintech companies launch new platforms for trade finance.
Established providers of electronic trading systems sign up more members. In all this publicity for new projects one question is rarely addressed. Can the law keep pace with developments? For centuries the principal document in international trade has been the bill of lading (B/L). It is issued by the carrier and can be transferred from seller to buyer, often via their respective banks. The B/L is a “document of title” in that the holder of the original B/L has specific legal rights, plus some potential
liabilities, in relation to the goods. Are those rights and liabilities replicated if the original paper B/L is
replaced by an electronic bill of Lading (eB/L)? What is the legal consequence if the eB/L is subsequently printed in paper format?
The International Chamber of Commerce Banking Commission, on the recommendation of the Legal Committee, appointed Clyde & Co LLP to conduct a survey on the legal status of eB/Ls, whether in the form of an electronic record or in paper format when converted from an electronic record. The survey covers the following ten jurisdictions: UK (English law), USA (NY law), Germany, Netherlands, UAE, China, Singapore, Brazil, India and Russia. This report sets out the relevant issues and the results of the survey.