Both large and small companies across numerous industrial sectors are already using digitalisation to boost profits, cut costs and speed up transactions, just two months after the UK passed a law allowing electronic documents to be used in trade, according to a report by the country’s largest business organisation.

Real-life commercial advantages stemming from digital trade transactions that are available today include an 80% reduction in border waiting times, an 18% decrease in shipping costs and hundreds of pounds in savings, says ICC United Kingdom in Seizing the moment: Unleashing the potential of trade digitalisation.

With the paper, published in partnership with the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation, ICC UK says it wants to encourage more businesses to capitalise on the tangible benefits delivered under the Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA) and start using the new tools that are available.

“We believe the time is now for a much-needed overhaul of the way we trade,” says Chris Southworth, secretary general at ICC UK. “It is time to remove paper and antiquated processes once and for all and use far more effective ways of operating using technology. This report begins to set out the scale of the opportunity on offer.”

The document includes a multitude of real-world case studies from businesses in the UK and farther afield. Among them is Melon & Co, a UK SME fruit importer, which has achieved a 15% increase in profits by using electronic bills of lading (eBLs) to improve supply chain efficiency. Abercore, a UK SME sugar trader, slashed its transaction time to just one hour when it used an e-bill of exchange to streamline the trade financing of an import transaction from Nicaragua. Meanwhile, retailer Matalan saved two full days on a trade transaction when it purchased a consignment of clothing from a garment supplier using an e-promissory note.

Further afield, in MLETR-compliant jurisdiction Singapore, which also accepts electronic trade documents, Cofco Industrial Food improved its efficiency by 80% and cut costs by 30% by using an eBL to ship a container of canned food from China to Singapore.

ICC UK points out that the ETDA has unlocked broader economic benefits beyond trade, such as in the case of Vistry Group, a UK housebuilding company that was able to complete on multiple land sales in just 24 hours through the use of an electronic promissory note.

As well as the developments brought about by the legal reform, initiatives to enable end-to-end paperless trade, such as customs digitisation, are also enabling businesses to trade faster and cheaper than before. ICC UK cites the case of Cue the BBQ, a South African charcoal and firewood manufacturer, which revolutionised its shipping operations through the adoption of digital automation compliance technology for its weekly UK shipments of up to 12 containers, slashing the time taken for processing import documentation by 80%.

“We are calling on all CFOs and corporate treasurers to act on the evidence in the report, review trade processes and co-ordinate action across their companies to help us scale the benefits so everyone wins,” says ICC UK in the paper. “The hard commercial evidence in this report shows that any and all companies engaged in international trade can make significant profit and loss gains, not in two years’ time, but right now.”

To accelerate progress on bringing trade into the digital age, ICC UK is calling for more businesses to join its corporate digitalisation taskforce, which it launched in September.

The response from the private sector thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. Among companies signed up to attend the taskforce’s inaugural meeting, held today [28 November], are Anglo American, AstraZeneca, BAE, Birdseye, Brose, BT, Burberry, Diageo, Glencore, GSK, JTI, Melon & Co, Rio Tinto, Rolls Royce, Shell and Trafigura.

“Our report today presents a compelling case for digitalising trade, improving liquidity, reducing risk and increasing profitability,” Southworth tells GTR. “Our goal is to now scale up the benefits at pace and scale and digitalise global supply chains by 2026 with a particular focus on the automotive, food and drink, retail, pharmaceutical and commodity sectors, which ship the largest volume and value of global trade.”