Importance of transport documentation in international trade
Those exporters (or potential exporters) who are not fully familiarized with the nuances of international trade transactions may be unaware of the importance that transport documentation represents. To explain it, let’s start with the basics. In this sense, an analogy with post service is useful.
Let’s think of the document as a person who is mailing a package. This person goes to the post office, and hands over the package. The postal worker looks at the package, and verifies its condition, ensuring that it is properly sealed and suitable for shipping. The postal worker then weighs it and measures it to determine the shipping cost. Once the shipping costs have been paid, the sender receives a receipt (an airway bill or print receipt) with the corresponding breakdown of what was paid for. This creates duties and responsibilities for the postal service, because they must now deliver the package to the correct location, and only to the person named as the recipient. Also, as specified on this receipt, the sender is to receive a notice that the package was received. The postal service retains a copy of the airway bill or receipt, which indicates the specific recipient to receive the package, with the right to receive the package, as designated by the sender. That package can only be delivered to the recipient, as indicated on the receipt.
How does this example of sending a package from the post office relate to that of an international export transaction, where we are no longer talking about a single package but rather a full container of merchandise, with a declared value of several thousand dollars or more. There are several similarities, although rather than a simple receipt from the post office, a much more valuable document is involved, which is called a “transport document.”
It could be said that the transport document is the document issued by the carrier when it takes possession of the merchandise, which is delivered to the sender. The transport document represents the freight carrier’s commitment to transport the merchandise to a specific destination, under certain conditions, in exchange for a monetary sum. It should be added that the shipper must include in this document, as indicated by the sender, a list of recipients, whether an individual or legal entity, entitled to claim the shipment at the place of destination.
As such, why is the transport document so important? It is important because:
It represents the contract of carriage, containing the conditions that pertain to the shipping transaction. It should be noted that it will contain all of the terms and conditions under which the transport operation will take place;
It is proof that the merchandise has been delivered for transport; the seller can demonstrate this to the customer, which is the only way the buyer could get their hands on this document.
It shows that the goods were delivered in good conditions. The freight carrier would not accept any merchandise that is visibly damaged or contains noticeable flaws, notifying the exporter of the situation. In the event that the freight carrier notices damage or flaws, the transport document becomes know as a “dirty” transport document, with the perceived damage noted at the time of delivery.
It shows the ownership of the goods, determining who is authorized to present themselves at Customs to receive the merchandise. In the case of maritime transport, the transport document is called a “Bill of lading,” known by its initials, BL. This document represents other values for the recipient named, as it allows the transmission of ownership of the goods. It is to say that this document allows the purchaser of the goods to transmit the ownership of it to someone else, often endorsing BL, so the second purchaser to carry out the importation.
In the case of air transport, the document used is called an “air waybill,” often referred to by its initials AWB, which is a receipt issued by an international airline for goods and an evidence of the contract of carriage, but it is not a document of title to the goods. Ground transportation uses a document called a consignment note – carriage of goods by road or an inland rail waybill. Unlike the bill of lading, air and land transport documents do not allow the transfer of ownership (i.e., they are not a document of title to the goods), given the relatively short transit time.
In summary, the importance of the transport document, in any of the modes of transport used is as follows:
- It allows whoever is nominated to claim the goods before the Customs authorities upon their arrival;
- It makes it possible to observe the conditions of the contract of carriage;
- It shows that the merchandise has delivered without suffering apparent damage;
- And in the case of maritime transport, this document makes it possible to transfer ownership of the goods through a simple endorsement.
Without one of these documents, the recipient of the goods would not be allowed to claim the goods at Customs. Delays in obtaining transport document generate costs and delay the release of goods.
Finally, there are several aspects of these documents of particular importance:
- Issue date: The date of the transport document represents the “date of boarding” of the cargo, which often arises as a condition in the sales agreements, or in the means of payment. This date needs to be kept in mind because the compliance or breaches of the conditions agreed depends on it.
- Description of the merchandise: The document should include a full and accurate description of the merchandise that must match the invoice, certificate of origin, packing list and other documents related to the operation.
- Weight and volume: It is important the weight and volume of the freight be declared correctly and with precision; they should be the same at the time of arrival of the cargo to the destination port. If the weight of the shipment upon arrival does not coincide with the amount indicated on the shipping documents, the release of the shipment could be delayed or subject to other inconveniences.
- Payment terms: The document of transport usually indicates if the freight is paid, or if the freight will be paid at the destination by the consignee of the merchandise.
- Corresponding signatures: The document must be duly signed by the carrier or agent. It is their duty to assign a value to the cargo.
- Notices: The transport document usually indicates who should be notified once the shipment arrives at port. The person to be notified may be the consignee or a third party.
- Consignee’s information: The consignee’s correct information should be included on all documentation, mainly the company’s name and contact information.
- Full set of copies: Three original copies of the transport documentation should be issued. In this regard, the recipient of the merchandise should receive one complete set, as a document that represents the ownership of the merchandise.
This article provides as overview of the transport document and the different aspects of a foreign trade transaction covered. It is arguably the single most important document.
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