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Paperless Trade and the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records

What is paperless trade?

International trade transactions still often rely on analogue processes and hard copy documentation, like bills of lading (BoLs) and letters of credit. In order to promote the adoption of paperless trade and facilitate trade (see guide on Trade Facilitation), there is a need to harmonize trade-related datasets and standards across economies. This includes having an inclusive, end-to-end digital pipeline from documents originating in one economy to the ability to accept and process imports in another. Further, there is a strong need to recognize the legal authority of digital trade documents, which is the aim of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR).

Why is paperless trade important for MSMEs?

Paperless trade could significantly reduce trade costs and add up to major savings for traders, especially MSMEs. Paperless trade can reduce complexity by eliminating the need for copies of the same document, as well as making electronic and immediate transmission of those same documents possible. All of this can reduce the time and effort required, thereby assisting all traders, especially MSMEs.

Where can I access other resources on paperless trade?

What is the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR)?

Created by UNCITRAL in 2017, the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR) is a key piece of paperless trade. The Model Law aims to enable the legal recognition of electronic transferable documents, that is, commercial documents and instruments, which incorporate the right to delivery of goods or payment of sums of money (e.g., letters of credit, bills of exchange, promissory notes, warehouse receipts). The MLETR is not only an important step towards trade digitalization, it is also necessary for the implementation of electronic single windows (see guide on Single Windows and National Portals).

Where can I access other resources on the MLETR?

  • The International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) digital standards initiative contains a webpage for policymakers with links on information related to adoption, economic analyses on the benefits of digitalization, and legislation related to the adoption of the MLETR. According to a 2021 ICC UK study, digitizing transferable documents could have  a very significant impact for MSMEs, generating an estimated £25 billion in new economic growth, including 25% more MSME trade. MSMEs are also estimated to have a 35% improvement in business efficiency and 13% increase in international business. Access the ICC presentation.

Where can I see the status of the MLETR’s implementation? 

The status is accessible at the UNCITRAL website.