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Digital Standards Initiative

We are establishing  a globally harmonised  digital trade environment.

What is the ICC Digital Standards Initiative?

Recent innovations to digitise the global trading system have had the unintended consequence of fragmenting the market and the platforms used by several industries of the international supply chain and public sector agencies. There is a clear need for a trusted, independent and neutral body to lead the effort to connect digital islands.


Hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the Digital Standards Initiative is committed to promoting policy coherence and harmonising digital trading standards for the benefit of businesses, governments, and people everywhere. Working with established standard-setting bodies and international organisations, the ICC Digital Standards Initiative will drive greater adoption of existing standards and create new frameworks to unify digital trade processes.

For an overview of existing standards that could help drive adoption, identify potential gaps, and promote interoperability, click here for a copy of The Standards Toolkit for Cross-Border Paperless Trade.

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The ICC Digital Standards Initiative will resolve key challenges facing trade digitisation efforts, including:

Lack of coherent standards for developers, executives and policymakers.


Platform rulebooks that hinder cross-platform title document exchange and utilisation.


Insufficient standards to simplify blockchain and non-blockchain based integration.


Legal uncertainty regarding the acceptance of digital trade documentation.


Unclear requirements for foundational trade standards.

Digital Standards Initiative in the Netherlands

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A conversation with Gerard Hartsink, lead DSI in NL. 

The common theme in Gerard Hartsink’s long career has been international trade and their payments. Whatever job he has been doing, he says that his work has always been “at the edge of international business processes, standards, and technology”. He has worked for the ICC for over ten years, the previous three of which as Chairman of the Digital Standards Initiative (DSI) Industry Advisory Board. In this interview, he highlights the significance of the DSI programme in streamlining the flow of global trade.

Can you explain the ICC’s DSI programme in one sentence?

The aim of the ICC’s Digital Standards Initiative is to develop a globally harmonized, digitized trade environment.

Let’s get into more detail. How will this be accomplished?
The DSI programme is focused on two aspects. Firstly, to make sure that the legal rules of administrative law around the world are harmonized. If this is not harmonized globally, then international trade slows down. The UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records – MLETR – is the relevant piece of legislation. Looking at the MLETR Tracker , you can see which countries have adopted this. The UK, for example, is further down the road than the Netherlands. The second part of the DSI mainly involves the technical data standards of the 40 international (paper) trade documents. 
These documents include data, but the format of these data is not the same of these documents to send them electronically to the business partners and government agencies such as customs, which is a problem. Moreover, it is in different languages. This is why we are nearly complete with the analysis of all 40 trade documents to get clarity about which data elements they contain. Then we identify the best standard for each data element: standardised data is very important for business-to-business, but also  

business-to-government communications. Standardised data is crucial in validating that the counterparty, for which the LEI (Legal Entity Identifier ) is the recommended option, is indeed the counterparty.

Can you zoom in to the situation here in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands has many exporters and importers dealing with goods and services. Although the Digital Standards Initiative is mainly for goods, it is not exclusive. A typical Dutch situation is that a lot of goods arriving at the Port of Rotterdam or Schiphol are destined for other countries. If one part of the container is for the Dutch market and the other part is for the rest of Europe, then it becomes very complex to understand who all the parties in the supply chain are. And, in the end, the data of the trade document related to the goods have to pass through multiple organisations, and everyone has to be paid for their services. 
From a practical perspective, the fact that all those documents do not have the same data is a problem for the exporter, importer or their service provider(s) established in or outside the Netherlands.

What can be done to accelerate the implementation of the DSI in the Netherlands?
ICC Netherlands has decided to create the ICC NL DSI Forum. This is not only for ICC members, but also key market participants in the Netherlands that are involved in international trade. This Forum has three tasks. First: to look at the DSI programme. Second: to listen to the members of the NL DSI Forum to hear their views based on their local industry knowledge. And third: if, in the end, we come to a global agreement, we will ask participants from the public and private sectors to help facilitate the adoption process of the ICC recommendations.


What sort of timeline do you expect?
It will take at least two years for the Dutch government to ensure that the MLETR is transposed to Dutch law. In addition, companies and their service providers will need to prepare themselves which will take one or two additional years. Therefore, awareness is very important; that people understand that this is going on at a global level under the umbrella of the ICC. I must also state that it is not just the ICC that is sitting around the table; many other organisations such as BIMCO, GS1, IPCSA, iSHARE, DCSA and IATA are working on this. Besides awareness, intelligent decisions from both the private and public sectors need to be made. Then we can start to have a dialogue about adoption.

Is there a relationship between the Digital Standards Initiative and sustainability?
There is definitely a direct link between the Digital Standards Initiative and some of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs): Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure [SDG #9], and Responsible Production and Consumption [SDG #12], for example. 
The DSI’s standardised suite of data facilitates easier communication; it also means that the cost of production, of moving goods around the world will decrease. If the processes of global trade can be carried out in a more efficient way, this will lead to more efficient use of resources. What is your personal motivation in working for the ICC’s DSI program? My history is in international business: I have the experience on how to use legal and technical standards to structure technology to facilitate international business processes. Therefore, I am very aware that the Dutch economy will benefit over time if we support the ICC’s Digital Standards Initiative. My motivation is working for the benefit of society. I have a focus on getting things done: this is what gives me a kick.

Useful links: 

Standards Toolkit for Cross-border Paperless Trade

The Standards Toolkit for Cross-Border Paperless Trade provides an overview of existing standards to help drive adoption, identify potential gaps and promote interoperability. Its objective is to equip every supply chain participant, both public and private, with some of the most notable and widely used standards to help push trade digitalisation to the next level.

MLETR Tracker
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This tracker reflects information as known to ICC DSI on the global implementation of MLETR, stakeholders are invited to share any additional information that maybe relevant to update it.

The Digital Standards Initiative 
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The ICC Digital Standards Initiative is establishing a globally harmonised trade environment to address modern challenges and bridge digital standard gaps.

UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records
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The Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR) aims to enable the legal use of electronic transferable records both domestically and across borders. The MLETR applies to electronic transferable records that are functionally equivalent to transferable documents or instruments. Transferable documents or instruments are paper-based documents or instruments that entitle the holder to claim the performance of the obligation indicated therein and that allow the transfer of the claim to that performance by transferring possession of the document or instrument. Transferable documents or instruments typically include bills of lading, bills of exchange, promissory notes and warehouse receipts.

The Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation (C4DTI)
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C4DTI is an ICC United Kingdom-led, global initiative based at Teesside University established with support from the Tees Valley Combined Authority. We are an industry-led, government-supported public-private partnership that works with the ICC Digital Standards Initiative, foreign governments, business groups, companies and international partners to digitalise UK trade. We are agnostic to technology and advocate for open, interoperable systems (laws, rules, standards).

Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI)
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Digital identities, within the context of cross-border trade, are referred to as LEIs. They operate in a similar way to having a company identification number with Companies House except LEIs are publicly listed on a global register and are listed as a foundational standard in the WTO/ICC Standards Toolkit.

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