June 15 2011
On June 5 2011 the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Protocol to the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) entered into force. The 'e-protocol' is designed to ease international road freight and improve good governance transport by allowing the use of electronic consignment notes in international road transport.
On May 28 2008 the Netherlands signed the e-protocol, which sets out the legal framework and standards for using electronic consignment notes (for further details please see "Electronic consignment notes usher in new CMR era"). On March 7 2011 Lithuania became the fifth state to ratify the e-protocol. As a consequence, it entered into force on June 5 2011 and allows transport operators to use electronic consignment notes in the five states that are signatory to it – the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia, Switzerland and Lithuania.
Since 1994 Dutch law has allowed the use of electronic consignment notes. Under such law, it is unnecessary to hand over a hard copy of the consignment note, or for truck drivers to have a hard copy available in the truck.
The e-protocol covers electronic consignment notes issued by the carrier, the sender or any other interested party. It is equivalent of the paper note and must contain all the same particulars, so that it has the same evidentiary value. The electronic note must be authenticated by way of a reliable electronic signature that ensures its link with the electronic consignment note. This signature must be uniquely linked to the signatory.
However, the effects of the entry into force of the e-protocol will be limited since many countries (eg, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Belgium) have not yet signed the e-protocol. However, other countries have recently joined such as Spain and the Czech Republic, where the e-protocol will enter into force on August 9 and July 13 2011, respectively. Since the e-protocol is now in force, in any new countries that ratify it from now on, the e-protocol shall enter into force on the 90th day after ratification. No doubt many countries will follow the example set by the five ratifying states.
However, the transportation of goods by road is still a traditional business. Although the e-protocol makes information transfer much more efficient and procedures are streamlined and secured in respect of data exchange, carriers still tend to rely on paperwork as well. Furthermore, for example in Belgium, it is required by law that the driver is able to show a paper consignment note. Clearly there is still a long way to go before paper consignment notes are a thing of the past.
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