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Celebrating 30 years of successful data exchange for trade and logistics using the UN/EDIFACT standard

UN/EDIFACT is a cornerstone international standard for the electronic exchange of data that is widely used in international supply chains, transport and logistics. It is used by 100,000 traders in the retail sector alone. 

UN/EDIFACT, or to give its full name, United Nations rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport, is a standardized language for data exchange, providing:

  • a set of syntax rules to structure data
  • standard messages which allow multi-country and multi-industry exchange
  • an interactive Electronic Data Interchange protocol (i-EDI).

As one of the key tools provided by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), hosted by UNECE, UN/EDIFACT has stood the test of time since its creation in 1987 and has proven that it can adapt to new methods of working. 

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the creation of UN/EDIFACT at the 30th UN/CEFACT Forum in Rome this week, speakers from around the globe gathered to discuss the use of this reliable electronic data exchange in fields ranging from transport and logistics, to supply chain management, retail, insurance and health.

What is the advantage of applying such a standard? Claudio Bozzo of MSC Mediterranean Shipping S.A. explained how the use of the UN/EDIFACT standard could significantly optimize both communication and efficiencies within a large and complex network such as that of the maritime industry. The company sends over 250 million messages per year using the UN/EDIFACT standard, with 113,000 messages being sent from one ship alone when entering a port.

David Roff of supply chain management company Warrant Group underlined that before standardizing message exchange through UN/EDIFACT; his company had to coordinate a multitude of XML messages. Each company created their own internal XML standard to meet their needs, but which was completely incompatible with other XML messages. Encouraging clients and partners to switch to the centrally maintained and stable UN/EDIFACT standard therefore facilitated message exchange externally, as well as within the company.

GS1, a not-for-profit organisation that develops and maintains global standards for business communication including barcodes, demonstrated that the use of UN/EDIFACT is on a constant rise, highlighting that this is not just a tendency within the retail sector. New messages are being developed constantly, like the VERMAS (Verified Gross Mass), corresponding to the IMO SOLAS regulation. Additionally, SMDG, a non-profit foundation run by and on behalf of companies and organizations working in the maritime industry, pointed out that existing messages are constantly maintained in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the standard.

30 years after its inception, UN/EDIFACT proves to be a reliable standard that helps thousands of companies around the world to trade and communicate effectively. UN/EDIFACT is set to continue this success for many more years to come.

Learn more about UN/EDIFACT at https://www.unece.org/cefact/edifact/welcome.html