UN Layout Key for Foreign Trade Documents - Foreign Economic Activities

UN Layout Key for Foreign Trade Documents

In connection with the growth of document circulation in the practice of international trade, work is carried out to standardize and unify the foreign trade documents used in concluding contracts.

In October 1960, Mr. The Committee for Trade Development of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) decided to establish a working group to consider, in particular, the possibility of developing recommendations with a view to possibly reducing the number, simplification and standardization of foreign trade documents.

At the first session in August 1961, the working group decided that to conduct national standardization activities in the same direction in different countries it would be advisable to draw up an international model sample of the document that includes in clearly defined locations all the data elements required for various foreign trade documents. After reaching agreement on the paper format, the principles of form development and the list, which was then passed on to governments and interested international organizations for comment.

In light of the opinions expressed and after numerous consultations with experts, the working group decided in October 1962 to propose a revised standard form, the structure of which took into account the results of the discussions held during the session. At its third session in October 1963, the working group, having considered the replies received from Governments and interested international organizations, concluded that the revised model form could be used as a layout template to simplify and standardize documents used for export.


During the period from 1963 to 1969, decisions or recommendations on the harmonization of various documents drawn up at the international level with a form that was then called the ECE layout were adopted by international organizations such as the International Chamber of Shipping (1963), the International Technical Forum conference on the rationalization of relationships between banks (1963), the Universal Postal Union (1964), the Customs Cooperation Council (1965), the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (1967), the Central Bureau of International Cooperation x Rail (1967) and the International Road Transport Union (1969). During this period, unified document systems based on the ECE Layout Key have been introduced in several ECE member countries.

In April 1969, the Economic Commission for Europe, noting the increasing international use of these documents, adopted a resolution that is recommended in particular to "take into account the ECE layout template when developing documents used in the field of international trade". The Commission also drew the attention of the Economic and Social Council to the practical importance for international trade of work in the field of simplification and standardization of procedures and documents and to the fact that it would be desirable to coordinate this work on a global scale.

As a result of these recommendations, many countries have established special bodies to simplify foreign trade procedures to continue this work at the national level. To coordinate this work of simplification, a Special International Trade Facilitation Program (FALPO) was established on a global scale as an independent unit of the UNCTAD secretariat (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), one of the main activities of which is the expansion of the use of the sample form in other regions of the world.

The rapid progress that has taken place in the field of automated data processing (ADP) and data transfer after the adoption of a layout record in 1963, has raised concerns that adapting the procedures for the preparation of documentation for new technology may not be suitable for the use of ANM. However, based on the experience gained in several countries and organizations, it was confirmed that the layout template is applicable to both ADPs and traditional data processing methods, and that it is justifiable to recommend it as a general basis for drawing up documents used in international trade, regardless of whether these documents will be processed by automated methods or by traditional, non-automated methods.

In this regard, the working group noted that documents used in international trade increasingly serve as a basis for data entry into ANS systems or are obtained from the output of these systems. Therefore, the working group concluded that the information contained in the foreign trade documents could sometimes be processed in ANM systems most quickly and economically if it were presented in coded form. The rules for placing the coded data elements were then discussed and prepared.

These changes, as well as a review of the progress achieved at the national and international level in the unification of foreign trade documents, allowed the working group on the facilitation of international trade procedures to adopt in 1973 two recommendations: Recommendation No. 1 on the ECE Layout Key for Foreign Trade documents (confirming the sample form adopted in 1963, recommending that governments and interested organizations continue to work on the harmonization of all documents used in international trade, with this form larom-sample) and Recommendation No. 2 on the placement of codes in foreign trade documents.

In 1975, the Ad hoc Meeting noted that documents agreed with the ECE Layout Key have already been introduced in many countries outside the ECE region, including countries with a significant share in world trade such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and that the introduction of sharply needed unified national systems was facilitated by the availability of an international standard.

In 1978, the Committee for the Development of Trade noted that the template for trade documents agreed by ECE experts in 1963 and officially recommended by the working group on the facilitation of international trade procedures in 1973 received worldwide recognition, as a result, it is possible to refer to it as a "United Nations Layout Key for Foreign Trade Documents".

In 1979, the working group decided that the recommendation for a sample form (figure 10.1) should be published as a United Nations publication for sale, and that the text should include the provisions of the two 1973 recommendations referred to above . The working group also defined the general concept of the "United Nations system of unified foreign trade documents" and decided to include a description of this system in this publication.

Due to the flexibility of using the layout form, it became possible to use it without changing it on a larger scale than was expected in 1963. However, in the present version (1981) of the sample form (see Figure 10.1) some changes were made in terminology of data field identifiers that reflect changes in the standardization of data items. In addition, the explanatory notes were slightly updated.

UN Layout Key for Foreign Trade Documents

Fig. 10.1. UN Layout Key for Foreign Trade Documents

The recommendation on a sample form for foreign trade documents is intended to provide an international basis for the standardization of documents used in international trade and for international transport and for the presentation of these documents in a visually perceivable manner.

The United Nations Layout Key for Trade Documents is intended for use in the preparation of documents relating to the various types of administrative, commercial and production activities and distribution that constitute foreign trade, whether these documents are completed by hand or with the help of mechanical means, such as typewriters, automatic printing devices or copiers.

It is more likely to apply to documents describing individual shipments of goods (or a group of parties, for example, containerized goods) than to documents listing the full load of vehicles (for example, ship's cargo manifest). With regard to this latter type of document, the layout form can be applied to data relating to the description of the goods. Although the layout template primarily refers to documents used in the trade of goods, its relevant parts can also be used for transactions that are not related to goods.

The layout template is intended, first of all, to serve as a basis for the development of unified series of document forms using the main document when receiving documents by the once-written method. It can also be used as a layout for visual presentation of information on the screen when using ADP systems.

Given that a significant number of international and national documentation systems have been introduced on the basis of the sample form, some time must elapse before any changes that affect such types of documentation can be made in this form. Therefore, it was decided that it should remain valid for at least three years before any agreed change takes effect.

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