Warsaw Convention a barrier to e-AWB

IATA’s push to get every country onto the e-airwaybill bandwagon — an initial, cautious step toward full e-freight implementation — lives and dies by the Warsaw Convention. The convention states that in order for a carrier’s liability limit to stay intact, the AWB must be a paper document. Frederic Leger, IATA’s head of cargo business process and standards, moderated a panel at last week’s IATA World Cargo Symposium exploring the Warsaw Convention and other regulatory challenges to e-AWBs as part of the regulations track.

During a brief chat before the panel, he explained the complexities behind the e-AWB’s legal framework. The paper-or-bust decree inherent in the Warsaw Convention was counteracted by the Montreal Protocol and the Montreal Convention 1999, both of which made it safe for carriers to accept e-documents instead of leaving a paper trail.

Though about 90 percent of the countries around the world are able a party to all of these developments and are thus able to accept the e-AWB, a few of the large countries signed on to the Warsaw Convention, but aren’t quite friendly with the newer regulations. IATA has changed from pushing full e-freight compliance to a more measured, step-by-step, approach and will zero its focus on implementation of the e-AWB.

But why would a country chose to not add one of the fixes? Well, Leger said, some countries, like Taiwan, can’t ratify treaties, and others, like Thailand, have never ratified anything at all. It’s a slippery slope that gets even more frosty the farther downhill you slide.

To make things even more complicated, some Customs agencies still don’t recognize electronic documents, Leger said. So there is, of course, a mountain of regulatory challenges to work through before e-AWBs can be used throughout the world, but working through these issues and helping countries understand the benefits of e-AWBs is the first step toward full e-freight implementation.

“E-freight is a big animal to digest. We believe that by pushing the e-AWB, it will then create a momentum in the industry to remove the other documents,” Leger said. “Implementing e-AWB is really the trigger that will lever the implementation of e-freight.”

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