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UN/CEFACT develops a new international standard to improve tracking of goods across complex supply chains

In today’s globalized economy, goods move through complex supply chains and cross borders – often numerous times, which involves multifaceted interactions among a variety of suppliers and trade actors. The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have brought to light the challenges of supply chain disruptions. Through its UN/CEFACT Track and Trace Standard for Multi-Modal Transport, UNECE helps to shed light on the key question of “where are my goods?” This question arises frequently, as goods move along multiple steps in supply chains between the seller and the buyer.

Today, the granularity of tracking is primarily focused on the means of transport or transport equipment as trackable transport assets, in which the traded goods are placed (e.g. a good is tracked as part of the container, in which it is being shipped). It is often thought that if the location of the trackable transport asset is known, the information about the location of traded goods is included therein. However, this is not a one-to-one relationship. And, the relationship may vary over time, considering that goods may be consolidated, split, deconsolidated, or re-combined at waypoints during the transport journey.

The key challenge is how to link the available “identifiers” in a consistent way across the business steps and life cycle of a trade shipment from the seller to the buyer of those goods. In fact, during trade and transportation processes, links of different entities of the end-to-end supply chain are often not properly recorded or adequately referenced in down-stream communications. As a result, very few stakeholders can capture a complete overview of the actual end-to-end journey of goods of trade shipments moved as consignments.

To address the lack of consistent identifiers end-to-end across the many actors involved and to bridge this communication gap between the trade and transport sectors, UNECE UN/CEFACT has produced the international standard “Integrated Track and Trace for Multi-Modal Transportation Business Requirements Specification (BRS)”. Developed in accordance with the UN/CEFACT Open Development Process and validated by the UN/CEFACT Bureau, the new standard was presented to the 28th UN/CEFACT Plenary in October 2022. It contributes a framework on how to close the gap by creating an effective linkage to unique identifiers.

Inconsistency in terminology persists as a major concern in the trade and transportation processes. Stakeholders involved in the trade transaction and the transportation of consignments tend to mix the use of common terms and definitions, or sometimes use different identifiers for the same object. For instance, the terms ‘trade shipment’ and ‘consignment’ have the same meaning but are usually not used consistently across various trading industries and modes of transport. Furthermore, ‘transport contract’ is also named differently at times by different modes of transport, such as road consignment note, waybill, master air waybill, bill of lading, rail consignment note.

“You need to have a real common language to make sure that all data are correctly understood by the different parties to avoid ambiguities and mistakes and the sharing of wrong information” said Mr. Thierry Grumiaux, who leads the transport and logistics centre of excellence at GS1 France.

The ultimate goal in supply chain movement and communication is to ensure the flow of goods to be as reliable and sustainable as possible, and to guarantee that “what is understood is what is sent”.

The group of experts involved in the UN/CEFACT project Cross Industry Supply Chain Track and Trace project had first delivered an executive-level White Paper on Integrated Track and Trace for Multimodal Transportation in April 2021, which then was the basis for the new BRS Integrated Track and Trace for Multi-Modal Transportation document, published October 2022.

“This new standard is a critically important step forward to support end-to-end monitoring of sustainable global supply chains,” said Ms. Sue Probert, Chair of UN/CEFACT. In the future, the newly launched international standard will be used in combination with the data sources from the UN/CEFACT library, and methods of digitalization and standardized identification schemes within and across supply chains.

“The work of UN/CEFACT is key for DCSA and many of our partners to jointly unlock the potential of data exchange across industries, modes of transport and borders,” added Mr. Dominique Willems, Head of Public Affairs at Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA).

The new standard and its implementation can contribute to the digitalization of information exchange along supply chains across the UNECE region and beyond. It also can help digitalize the flow of data in the context of the Black See Grain initiative, or in the long term, help digitalize the so-called Green Lanes, facilitating exports from Ukraine.
Source: UNECE

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