Over the past two decades transport undertakings have made a much progress in digitalization and automation.
Routes are being scheduled automatically and GPS-tracking and the digital tachograph are looking after the safety of the driver and the transported goods. However, in the use of the electronic consignment note digitalization has lagged behind; it is routine for a paper version of the consignment note to be passed from hand to hand. This article discusses the Benelux pilot with electronic freight note, an initiative which will, in time, wholly change this situation.
CMR and protocol
Although under Dutch legislation (and in national road transport) it is already possible to use an electronic waybill, in international road transport this is more complicated. In international road transport the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road of the United Nations, better known as the CMR Convention, applies.
The CMR Convention is ratified by 55 countries (“Member States”) including almost all European countries (both EU and non-EU states), but also in, for example, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey. If in international road transport the place of dispatch or receipt is a CMR Member State, the CMR Convention applies and the provisions are mandatory.
The CMR Convention prescribes the use of CMR consignment notes by senders, transport undertakings (carriers) and consignees. The protocol of the CMR dated 5 June 2011 allows Member States who have signed the protocol to also accept the electronic consignment note (“e-CMR”).
The electronic freight note in practice
A practical difficulty in the use of the e-CMR arises where the point of origin and the point of delivery are not in adjacent countries, but requires the consignment to cross, or ‘transit’ third countries who do not accept the e-CMR. Belgium for instance has not ratified the e-CMR-protocol but, because of its geographical location, remains a major country of transit. Therefore consignments to France and Spain (both acceded to the protocol) must rely on the conventional consignment note.
One of the most immediate effects of the Benelux Pilot is that the electronic consignment note may now be used within the Benelux. The pilot is based on Order M (2017) 12 of the Committee of Ministers of the Benelux Union concerning an intra-Benelux pilot project with the electronic consignment note. The use of the electronic consignment note is made possible by article 1, paragraph 5 of the CMR Convention. The e-CMR-protocol serves as a guide for the CMR Convention. However, formally, the e-CMR-protocol does not apply to Belgium (who did not ratify the protocol) and Luxemburg (who did not sign the protocol). The Order and the attached explanatory memorandum contain the details of the pilot. Thus the pilot only applies to transport within the Benelux where, the party making up the electronic consignment note resides in the Benelux; parties can of course choose to keep using the conventional consignment note.
Transport undertakings may only use accredited software suppliers for e-CMR. Currently there are four accredited suppliers: Collect + Go, Transfollow (Dutch), Pionira (Belgian), and Truckfly (French/Luxembourgish). Suppliers who wish to offer the e-CMR-software may apply for approval before September 2018.
The pilot enables the following advantages of the e-CMR and electronic consignment note:
- no further need of CMR-consignment notes, costing up to €4,50 per note
- a reduction of the administrative burden for Dutch businesses, of perhaps €80 million
- a reduced error risk in completing the consignment note
- the central storage of and permanent access to consignment notes
- track & trace on behalf of the carrier (for instance in cases of delay) or on behalf of the emergency services (for instance in case of an accident); this includes the careful embedding of privacy requirements and
- the possibility of integrating with other digital files, for instance in respect of customs duties or invoicing, where several apps are already in use.
Rules: country of dispatch, country of arrival and transit country
The Dutch Minister for Infrastructure has pointed out the importance for the Dutch transport sector of countries such as Germany, Italy and Austria accepting the e-CMR. In this context, it is worth noting that the e-CMR-protocol only applies in 16 CMR Member States. In practice, this means that transport undertakings need to consider whether they can use the electronic consignment note, for if the e-CMR cannot be used, transport undertakings are only permitted to use the conventional waybill. At the same time, some Member States use different rules concerning conventional CMR-consignment notes in the event of transit (for instance Germany).