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E-Coi etc. Unless the parties are both using EDI, or happen to have the same computer busi- ness systems, a B2B website is a one-way street for the flow of information, leaving the user unable to capture any data. How- ever, XML (Extensible Markup Lan- guage), a variation of HTML (Hypertext

Markup Language) — without which websites would not have been so easy to put together, provides the ability to inte- grate systems, thus allowing a user to cap- ture data. Already in use, XML is provid- ing such integration to many systems, and as XML standards are created, data can be downloaded and exchanged between any systems. The beauty of this solution is that companies would not have to discard their EDI systems to participate in B2B as long as they add XML to it, and users of such a Web site would not have to have

EDI in order to capture data to record and reuse in their own systems. Many B2B websites for international trade and trans- port are online in one stage of develop- ment or another as has been reported in this magazine. The advantages of B2B to such a fragmented sector as international trade and transport are many: access to a more diverse customer base, fewer barriers to trade, faster and cheaper transactions, avoiding expensive private networks, the ability to partner with complementary ser- vices, and a "no-tech" business solution that is affordable.

While there are far too many websites for some areas such as trading chemicals or freight auc- tions, natural selection has begun to whittle them down to a select few. The successful B2B web- sites will be those that can pro- vide the means to obtain all needed services through links or other means to complete a trans- action. Transportation websites, which are numerous, have been slow to partner with trading web- sites. One of the largest chemi- cal trading Web sites, Chem-

Match (which has financing and other links), has linked with the chemical shipping website,

ChemLink (affiliated with Stolt

Tankers), in the first of such link- ages. The natural advantages of such linkages will, no doubt, lead to other arrangements.

Unlike the other computing hypes of the past, the revolution in electronic commerce through

B2B's will take place, and, in fact, is taking place. However, computing rarely delivers on time, so it is going to take a while to sort out all the websites, get all the ancillary services up and linked, and have all the bugs worked out of XML, before elec- tronic commerce for internation- al trade and transport can be said to be an established business practice. But, at least, it has found a direc- tion. Recently, the U.S. and the U.K. took important steps to recognize digital signa- tures by enacting laws permitting their use, and putting electronic commerce on the same footing as other methods of doing business. These laws are neutral as to the technology and techniques to be used, even though many sought to lock in the technology and have firm rules for techniques. At least electronic commerce and digital signatures have a legal basis in the U.S. and the U.K., and most developed countries will soon follow, such that the main uncertainty in using electronic com- merce, in general, and digital signatures, specifically, has been removed.

The dawning of B2B has removed the excuses for resisting the extension of com- puter systems into all aspects of trade and transport. Cost and training are no longer an impediment to participating in B2B.

Legal impediments are being removed as well. Those involved in trade and transport that fail to include this new business tech- nique into their business procedures, run the risk of losing out to competition that will become more effective and efficient through the use of B2B.

George Chandler is a partner in Hill Rivkins &

Hayden LLP in Houston, Texas. A more detailed paper on this subject is available upon request at HR_TEX_GFC@compuserve.com. -1=1

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