Global commercialization may seem like a phrase that is mired in the 21st century, but the reality is that global commercialization started centuries ago. The opening of the ancient Silk Road is probably the most well-known example of trade creating connections between distant communities. First established over 1500 years ago, the Silk Road is not a specific road, but rather a network or routes that connected the suppliers and buyers of goods.
But it wasn’t just the spices, dried fruit, tea, and textiles that traveled along these routes. Alongside them came ideas and philosophies, different ways of life, religious beliefs. And according to research, disease was also a frequent traveller along the road. It seems likely that the Black Death which devastated Europe in the 1340s, is likely to have travelled along the Silk Road.
The military influence
Whether we like it or not, war has played a significant role in helping the logistics industry to evolve. Since the Romans spread their legions across great swathes of European lands, the mass movement of troops, and the paraphernalia required to accommodate them, feed them, clothe them, entertain them and ultimately fix them back up after being injured in battle.
As the centuries unfolded, communication became a vital tool in gaining an upper hand over the enemy. Knowledge became power, and having insider information based on the interception of communications could make the difference between victory and defeat.
Increasing efficiencies in the movement of goods
The smaller the world has become, the more innovation has been poured into creating systems that improve the movement of goods between countries. While physical products still need to be placed in plastic pallets and moved from the UK to other destinations across the world, the processes required to get them there have been pared down and digitalized, replacing what used to be reams of paperwork which invariably got lost, or damaged, or was prone to human error, to a single QR code which follows that one product from initial manufacture right through to its final destination.
This digitalization of trade is destined to make the movement of goods faster, safer and cheaper. Just this month, the UK government has announced the first ever fully digitalized goods shipment which was sent from a company in Burnley to Singapore. This comes as the result of world-leading legislation introduced to make trading cheaper and easier for businesses.
This is made possible by the introduction of the ETDA Electronic Trade Documents Act which puts electronic documents on the same legal footing as paper documents.
The consumer market is already relatively used to this frictionless trading. Online shopping has been refined to such a degree that the transaction can be done with a single swipe. Proof of payment is sent to an email address and the whole purchase is completed without a single piece of paper. You may have documentation included in your parcel when you receive it, but as the consumer you have not had to produce anything.
While global trade is more complex, the legal recognition of electronic documents is a major shift in streamlining the export of goods, and will be a major boost to the economy. As well as being more sustainable, the reduction in the potential of human error, the speed and immediacy of having documents available at the scan of a QR code, and the infallibility of technology will pave the way to much faster trade.
Where do we go from here with the future of logistics? The next major challenge will be to create a transport system that is fully sustainable, and fully carbon net zero.