Electronic Data Interchange is not new. Some companies have been using proprietary formats since the late 1960's. However, if EDI implementation is to remain cost efficient, trading partners must share a common language for their business and commercial messages.

In the mid 1970's, sectoral EDI standards emerged in a number of countries, which sometimes in turn led to the development of national standards. It became clear that if EDI was to meet the requirements of the global business community, an international multiindustry EDI standard was needed.

By the mid 1980's the development of an EDI standard began taking shape within the United Nations. The standard is known today under the acronym UN/EDIFACT, in full: United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport.

In 1987, the syntax or grammar of UN/EDIFACT was approved as ISO standard 9735. UN/CEFACT is the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business. The centre's objective is to develop recommendations and standards such as UN/EDIFACT to facilitate trade.