E-Bill of Lading in PRC

2021 forecast in international transport estimates that the innovation is one of the things which can restart the stopped activity and economy that depends on it.  The first real recoveries may be expected in April 2021. Obviously, the digitalization will change the international trade but also and deduct the costs. Post- Covid impact on transport made the changes that probably will never go back to the old but all of us should look for more alternative business model. How this can be applied to this industry? New technology will make the shipping business simpler. For example, paper documentation will be eliminated. Much more will be presented on International Transport Forum (ITF) which will have been held from 26 to 28 May 2021 in Leipzeg, Germany.

The innovations for transport industry have always been of a crucial importance. We are witnesses of the digitalization and accepting the Bills of Lading in electronical form. Let us see how it can be applied in People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Original Bill of Lading has been a principal document for centuries. The holder of the original B/L has a specific legal right. The question is if the original B/L is replaced by electronical B/L (e-B/L). Which are the legal circumstances if the B/ L is subsequently printed on the paper?

We have investigated if, in accordance with Electronic Signature Law of PRC, the holder of the paper B/L should have the same rights as in eB/L.  Also, is this Law provide that the electronic signature shall have the equal force with handwritten signature and seal?

Briefly, the PRC Electronic Signature Law confirms the legal validity of data and electronic documents, but these legal provisions are based on paper documents that can be replaced by E versions by electronic technologies.

For example, if the contract sides agree that the Bill of Lading can be converted in electronic format, pdf for example, the conversion of the B/L shall enter into force on the date when it is converted.

However, Chinese legislation currently does not recognize the legal idea of the eB/L as an electronic converted record which has not been converted from a paper document. It is not certain whether both the original paper B/L and eB/L can equally give the holder equivalent rights.

In theory, both the B/L and eB/L could be legally treated as a form of contract and document of title in China.

Finally, there is no concept of eB/L in Chinese legal system. Even though there have been some experiments in the use of eB/L operated by Chinese banks. Any party considering using eB/L should negotiate with banks to confirm if the banks are able to provide eB/L service.