Documentary requirements

Documentary requirements for transport often stem from International Conventions and Agreements, such as those from UNECE that relate to facilitation of transport when crossing borders.

Documentary requirements deal with issues such as:

  • Ownership of the goods, especially when this changes during transport; a particular case is the negotiable bill of lading, which UNECE Recommendation No.12 suggests in favour of the use of a non-negotiable sea waybill.
  • Proof that required permits and certificates have been obtained for the goods, their packaging, or for the means of transport or transport routes.
  • Prescriptions to follow certain procedures, rules, routes, facilities and stops.
  • Documentation about the cargo (such as bill of lading, airway bill, rail or road consignment note), which needs to accompany the goods during transport, as well as the conditions for supplying these documents electronically.
  • The conditions and liabilities under which the transport contract operates, in particular the much-used Incoterms of the International Chamber of Commerce.
  • Documentation to be supplied to the authorities, which includes declarations and permits, but also accompanying documents such as a commercial invoice supplied with a Customs declaration.

These documentary requirements influence document exchanges throughout the transport chain and its management. Certain paper documents, especially waybills, may be required to accompany the goods physically. These and other documents can be exchanged electronically in advance of the physical arrival of the goods, allowing preparation to be done at an early stage. Even when paper documents have to accompany goods, exchanging them electronically will allow a smooth passage through the procedures at arrival and will facilitate trade processes. If documents only arrive with the goods or even later, this delays transport of the goods and their delivery to the consignee.
Documentary requirements at the end of the transport chain (such as accompanying documentation for Customs) may have to be gathered at the start of transport and passed between all parties along the transport movement.

For electronic communications, the UN/CEFACT transport messages and code lists (as from the UNECE Recommendations, in particular, numbers 16 on location codes, 19 on modes of transport, 20 on units of measure, 21 on types of packaging, 23 on freight cost codes, 24 on status codes and 28 on types of means of transport) offer a widely used framework.

Main trade facilitation issues are: knowledge of, and compliance with, international and national legislation; timely and correct issuance of documents that accompany the goods; efficient border crossing due to receiving the required information from documents (such as waybills, manifests and Customs declarations) in advance and hence pre-clearance of goods; use of non-negotiable versus negotiable documents; and using electronic rather then paper documents.

Trade facilitation can be fostered by implementing: recommendations from International UNECE Conventions and Agreements; UNECE Recommendation 12 on the use of non-negotiable sea waybills rather than negotiable bills of lading; modern information exchange for a more efficient handling of documents, for example by using UNECE Recommendation 1 on the UN Lay-Out Key; and by using standard documents from international transport organizations, such as the FIATA Bill of Lading.