Global flows of goods are not possible without a global flow of information. This must be exchanged between various stakeholders, including government authorities and transport intermediaries. The information is provided and exchanged in paper or electronic form, the so-called trade documents.
These trade documents and the data elements they contained are defined and prescribed by national and international regulatory requirements in fields such as health, consumer protection, safety, tax and revenue, trade policy, environment and security.
Examples of trade documents
Trade documents can be classified according to the sector in which they originated. The UNECE guidelines to Recommendation No.1 classifies them into documents from commercial transaction sectors, payment sectors, transport and related services, and official control sectors.
Commercial transaction sector documents
These include documents exchanged between partners in international trade for information to tender, exchange between offerer and offeree, and the conclusion of a contract. Examples of such documents are offers and quotations, orders, pro-forma invoices, and despatch advice.
Payment sector documents
These include documents exchanged between partners in international trade and their banks, as well as between banks for payments related to commercial transactions. They include, for example, commercial invoices, collection payment advice, documentary credit applications, and applications of bankers' draft and bankers' guarantee.
Transport and related service sector documents
These are documentary requirements of the procedures incidental to transport and related to the interface between trading partners and carriers; i.e. those related to forwarding and handling, and insuring. They include documents such as transport contracts (bills of lading, consignment notes), cargo freight manifests, freight invoices, arrival notices, insurance policies and warehouse receipts.
Official control documents
These are required for the control of goods conducted by various official bodies for the export, transit and import of goods. They include goods declaration for Customs purposes, SPS certificates, control and inspection certificates, and dangerous goods declarations.
Functions of trade documents
As shown above, trade documents have different origins, but they also serve different functions. They can act as contractual documents, such as insurance policies, bills of lading and commercial invoices. At the same time they support information during a different formality. A good example is the commercial invoice, which is a document needed for payment between seller and buyer, but is also used by Customs for the classification and valuation of the goods, and which has to be submitted as a supporting document for the Customs clearance process.