The Electronic Trade Documents Act (ETDA) has now become law in what has been called a “vital development for the improvement of the efficiency and sustainability of international trade” by many business leaders.

It has been hailed as a possible cost-saver for traders, with technology and digital economy minister Paul Scully recently saying that it could save businesses an estimated £1.1 bn over the next decade.

The act, for the first time in English and Welsh law, gives digital versions of certain commercial trade documents the same legal footing as paper versions, particularly those used for the trade in or transport of goods or the financing of such trade or transport.

The legislation lists the following as examples of the documents that can now be digitised: bills of exchange, promissory notes, bills of lading, a ship’s delivery order, warehouse receipts, a mate’s receipt, marine insurance policies, and cargo insurance certificates.

However, there are reservations in the industry about the immediate impact of the Act for traders, the general consensus is that the importance could be more that it indirectly encourages the digitisation of other documents that aren’t necessarily included as examples in the legislation. This includes e-Phyto certificates, electronic export health certificates, airway bills and CMR notes for road transport.

The legislation will also help banks and other financial institutions have better visibility of trade transactions, helping them to tackle money laundering in global supply chains.