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Digitalisation is manifesting itself in all stages of the import and export chain, from production, manufacturing, warehousing, port, and ship optimisation to electronic payments and electronic bills of lading.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • AI enables a detailed, on-demand analysis of consumers and markets (demand forecasting), which can help boost business planning and allow companies to make accurate and effective decisions.
  • It has the capability to minimise production risks, advancing transformation and efficiency across the value chains.
  • According to McKinsey’s ‘Succeeding in the AI Supply Chain Revolution’, AI and machine learning could improve logistics costs by 15% and service levels by 65% if adopted correctly; that is a competitive advantage all stakeholders want.
  • From customer service chats to remote-controlled systems and autonomous vessels, AI is crossing borders, learning, and already well-engaged in international trade.
  • In the last few years, Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) have picked up momentum. In the UK, we have seen IBM launch the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), an AI-powered marine research vessel, SEA-KIT introduce its uncrewed vessels (already on export to the US), and new tech start-up Acua Ocean develop their prototype for the world’s first long-endurance uncrewed surface vessel – to be powered by liquid hydrogen (backed by the UK Government’s UK Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition).
  • On a global scale, governments and corporations are working hard to develop future-oriented ferries and cargo ships – to bolster trade and reduce the risks of human-crewed vessels in international waters. All these developments highlight the potential for a complete transition in how the world trades internationally, but it is matched with an increasing need for regulation.

Smart Robots

  • Smart robots are increasingly taking over in warehouses, with a view to speeding up loading, unloading, and packing.
  • In the shipping industry, the sector is working to introduce ship inspection, firefighter, hull cleaning and anti-piracy robots. Inspection robots are thought to reduce the ship inspection time, allowing ships to continue trading in a shorter time.
  • In March 2023, Gecko Robotics announced its hull-inspecting robots will be used to assess a US Navy destroyer and an amphibious assault ship.

Autonomous Warehouse Drones

  • Drones can be used to collect data by circulating between products day and night. They process the data directly into user systems, which helps to minimise errors in data management and is easily shared amongst users. This tech helps to encourage communication and transparency in the supply chain which benefits the end customers.
  • Maersk, one of the world’s largest ocean carriers, is leading the way with its deployment of autonomous drones in warehouses to help shippers better track their inventories and taking pictures of SKUs on pallets to identify inventory errors.


  • Likewise, a blockchain-powered supply chain can help systematically document the shipment/transaction records of goods, leading to increased transparency and reduced costs. Blockchain and AI technologies that eliminate physical documents promote global trade by eliminating communication problems that companies may face.

Electronic Transport Documents

  • Traditional international trade links have been heavily reliant on physical paperwork and involve a number of interconnected participants, making it difficult to reconcile and verify information. New AI and Blockchain technology target the flaws of the electronic world and are now encouraging the transition to faster, simpler, and more transparent supply chains.
  • Under English law, the Electronic Bill of Ladings now has the same legal effect as the traditional B/L (the Electronic Trade Document Act 2023). This was a long-awaited statute which was welcomed by the industry.

Risks of the Tech Transition

  • Now that the industry is mid-revolution, the risks associated with cyber breaches are matched with counter-cyber software solutions and starting to resolve, with an element of risk planning. The World Economic Forum suggest that protection should be at the forefront of all decisions when deploying and investing in new technology.

Impact on International Trade

  • The global market is adapting rapidly, and AI-based systems are learning ‘on the job’. As the technology becomes more affordable and demand picks up (autonomous vessels, for example), there is increasing demand for tighter regulation, support systems and multi-disciplinary collaboration through supply chains to ensure a smooth transition.

For further information, please contact our shipping, logistics & international trade experts by calling us on 01202 786161 or email

Co-written by Beyza Torlak, Paralegal, Linda Jacques, Partner in our LA Marine team.

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