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German-Austrian Trade Transaction Successful on Marco Polo’s Blockchain Platform

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German-Austrian Trade Transaction Successful on Marco Polo’s Blockchain Platform

The S-Servicepartner, Sparkasse Bielefeld and the Austrian Raiffeisen Bank International, together with Dr. August Wolff GmbH & Co. KG Arzneimittel and its business partner, the pharmaceutical company s.a.m. Pharma Handel GmbH successfully completed a digital trade transaction with a receivables-based financing component on the Marco Polo platform. A special feature: the S-Servicepartner, currently the only back-office service provider worldwide within the Marco Polo consortium, the largest and fastest-growing trade finance network, was able to process a blockchain-based trade transaction for the first time together with a savings bank and its customer. Another highlight: Raiffeisen Bank International was the first Austrian bank to carry out a pilot transaction on the Marco Polo platform.

The Marco Polo network connects banks, corporates and technology-partners to streamline their working capital and trade finance activities through direct data exchange. It provides digital solutions for international trade and supply chain as well as receivables-based financing using R3 Corda Blockchain technology. Companies will be able to access the platform’s offerings via web portals, local and cloud-based platforms, and ERP-integrated applications.

The settlement and financing of trade transactions via a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT)-based platform is of equal interest to companies of all sizes active in foreign trade. The S-Servicepartner participates in the development of the Marco Polo platform, representing all savings banks in Germany, and pursues the goal of providing the savings banks with access to the Marco Polo product offering. The service provider is, therefore, testing the functionality and experience of the products on the Marco Polo platform together with selected savings banks and their medium-sized corporate customers. “This is the first transaction in a pilot series with savings banks with which we want to make an important contribution towards production maturity,” says Jürgen Nagel, a member of the Management Board of S-Servicepartner Berlin. “The insights gained by all participants will be directly incorporated into the further development of the modules”.

Ralf Hüpel, Head of International Business at Sparkasse Bielefeld, states: “We are very happy and satisfied to be able to contribute the view of a savings bank at such an early stage in the development of this platform. As the first savings bank in Germany, we were able, together with our customer, to give important impulses for the further development of this international project”.

“The Wolff Group, which is always interested in cutting edge innovations, sees an opportunity for the future to raise considerable efficiency potentials and significantly improve transparency in the entire process, from ordering to payment”, confirms Tanja Niedenführ, Head of Finance and Accounting Department at the pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) began looking at the existing blockchain-based trade finance solutions in 2017. Of all the available platforms, RBI ultimately opted for Marco Polo. “Marco Polo best suited our strategy as the platform combines traditional trade finance products with new blockchain-based solutions such as Payment Commitment,” says Stefan Andjelic, RBI Blockchain Hub Lead. The cooperation with S-Servicepartner and the two companies gave a good impression of the marketability of the Marco Polo platform. “The transaction showed how Marco Polo can make trade finance more transparent and efficient through automation,” says Andreas Zietz, RBI Teamlead Trade Finance.

Also for Michael Stanzig, Managing Director of s.a.m. Pharma Handel GmbH, the pilot has shown that the Marco Polo platform provides transparency and security to all sides. “The usability of the platform is relatively easy for our part and operated without any problems,” Michael Stanzig continues.

“This pilot demonstrates the benefits of leveraging blockchain technology for open account trade finance transactions. By using the Marco Polo Platform, we create a safe and digital environment, which provides the foundation for a global trade finance marketplace,” said Rob Barnes, CEO of TradeIX.

The parties to the transaction agree that the cooperative partnership not only provided a deeper insight into the innovative technology but also brought the conviction that the underlying visions can be put into practice in the near future.

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The S-Servicepartner is the largest back office service provider for the savings banks in Germany. As a process industrialiser, the S-Servicepartner supports the savings banks with standardization and automation solutions using modern technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Business Intelligence (BI). Today, the corporate group employs more than 2,350 people at 11 locations throughout Germany and generates annual sales of around 200 million euros.

Sparkasse Bielefeld is the market leader in its area of business for medium-sized corporate customers and the most important financing partner for medium-sized companies in Bielefeld. The bank handles more than 20,000 commercial customer relationships in Bielefeld and has provided around 550 million Euros in new commercial loans in 2018.

The Dr. Wolff Group, with brands such as Alpecin, Plantur and Alcina, as well as Linola, Vagisan, Biorepair and Karex, is a family business from Bielefeld, now in its fourth generation, with 675 employees and expanding worldwide. Since its foundation in 1905, the company has focused on research and the scientifically proven benefits of its products in order to find a solution for hair and skin problems. With its own developments, the company achieved a turnover of 309 million Euros (2018). Dr. Wolff is operating in more than 60 countries.

RBI regards Austria, where it is a leading corporate and investment bank, as well as Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as its home market. 13 markets of the region are covered by subsidiary banks. Additionally, the RBI Group comprises numerous other financial service providers, for instance in leasing, asset management or M&A. 

Around 47,000 employees service 16.5 million customers through approx. 2,100 business outlets, the by far largest part thereof in CEE. RBI’s shares are listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange. The Austrian Regional Raiffeisen Banks own around 58.8 percent of the shares, the remainder is in free float. Within the Austrian Raiffeisen Banking Group, RBI is the central institute of the Regional Raiffeisen Banks and other affiliated credit institutions.

s.a.m. Pharma Handel is a small successful company founded in 2003 in the OTC pharmaceutical sector with the aim of marketing European pharmaceutical companies that are not independently represented in Austria.

marco polo

Marco Polo Network Welcomes BNY Mellon

The Marco Polo Network, a trade and working capital finance network powered by blockchain technology, welcomed The Bank of New York Mellon (“BNY Mellon”) onboard to conduct an evaluation program. BNY Mellon’s collaboration is aimed at developing a more open and connected trade finance environment that powers global trade and economic growth.

Marco Polo is a consortium working to make international trade more efficient. The network includes financial institutions, their corporate clients, service providers and the blockchain technology firms TradeIX and R3, leveraging R3’s Corda blockchain.

By engaging with Marco Polo, BNY Mellon is positioning itself to explore trade financing powered by blockchain, in an industry where many participants still rely on costly and inefficient paper-based systems to conduct trade. 

“We recognize tremendous potential to harness digital, data and advanced technology capabilities to transform essential trade finance processes to make them more efficient and secure. Collaborating with Marco Polo members is one more measure of our commitment to provide innovative opportunities to improve the client experience throughout the transaction lifecycle,” said Joon Kim, Global Head of Trade Finance at BNY Mellon. “To achieve our goals, we seek to work with forward-looking organizations, like the Marco Polo Network, that are harnessing digital to truly transform industries,” he added.

The move reflects BNY Mellon’s focus on fully digitizing the business to deliver new capabilities faster, unlock the power of data and put clients at the center of their ecosystem. BNY Mellon remains dedicated to broadening the scope of its digital ecosystem both by actively advancing its own products and services as well as seeking opportunities to collaborate with best-in-class external companies. 

Already strong in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the Marco Polo Network now bolsters its U.S. presence with the addition of BNY Mellon. “We are accelerating the network’s growth and reach while our members are preparing and running programs with their corporate clients,” said Daniel Cotti, Managing Director, Centre of Excellence, Banking & Trade at TradeIX. 

 BNY Mellon joins Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Commerzbank, ING, LBBW, Anglo-Gulf Trade Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Credit Agricole, Natixis, Bangkok Bank, SMBC, Danske Bank, NatWest, DNB, OP Financial Group, Alfa Bank, Bayern LB, Helaba, S-Servicepartner, Raiffeisen Bank International, Standard Bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, MUFG, National Bank of Fujairah PJSC, National Australia Bank, and Bradesco as a member of the largest network of financial institutions leveraging blockchain for trade finance.

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About BNY Mellon

BNY Mellon is a global investments company dedicated to helping its clients manage and service their financial assets throughout the investment lifecycle. Whether providing financial services for institutions, corporations or individual investors, BNY Mellon delivers informed investment management and investment services in 35 countries. As of Sept. 30, 2019, BNY Mellon had $35.8 trillion in assets under custody and/or administration, and $1.9 trillion in assets under management. BNY Mellon can act as a single point of contact for clients looking to create, trade, hold, manage, service, distribute or restructure investments. BNY Mellon is the corporate brand of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (NYSE: BK). Additional information is available on www.bnymellon.com. Follow us on Twitter @BNYMellon or visit our newsroom at www.bnymellon.com/newsroom for the latest company news.

About TradeIX 

TradeIX, is an award-winning technology platform provider driving innovation and driving change in facilitating the flow of goods, money, and credit in the $8 trillion trade finance market. Its TradeIX Platform is delivered to banks and their corporate clients via ERP-embedded applications. The TradeIX Platform is integrated with the Marco Polo Network, the world’s fastest growing trade finance network.

Some of the smartest financial institutions and companies in the world work with TradeIX, including ING, BNP Paribas, DHL, AIG, Oracle, and many other Fortune 500 companies from various industries. TradeIX is headquartered in Dublin with offices in London, Kettering and Singapore. For more information visit: www.tradeix.com

About R3

R3 is an enterprise blockchain software firm working with a broad ecosystem of more than 300 members and partners across multiple industries from both the private and public sectors to develop on Corda, its open-source blockchain platform, and Corda Enterprise, a commercial version of Corda for enterprise usage.

 R3’s global team of over 180 professionals in 13 countries is supported by over 2,000 technology, financial, and legal experts drawn from its global member base. 

Learn more at r3.com.

technology

Competitors Link Arms and Embrace Technology’s Promise

Overcapacity. Low freight rates. Security problems. Data inadequacies. Stringent environmental regulations. When it comes to moving containerized freight around the globe, third-party logistics companies (3PLs) have a lot to deal with.

However, like a guardian angel, blockchain has arrived to solve all these issues and more for the 3PL industry, which stands to save billions of dollars annually through increased efficiency, improved processes and a digital transformation.

Blockchain technology, while still in its innovative infancy, has “a lot of potential” to facilitate trade, according to a report by Christine McDaniel, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, Hanna C. Norberg, the founder of Trade Economista and the university that was released in May.

In “Can Blockchain Technology Facilitate International Trade?” McDaniel and Norberg explored blockchain technology’s usefulness in easing trade finance, improving customs procedures and tracking the provenance of goods. Their conclusion: “Adaptability, interoperability, and a policy environment that welcomes experimentation will be essential if the U.S. economy is to realize the potential benefits of blockchain technology across the international trade landscape.”

They also point out that numerous private- and public-sector efforts are underway to explore the benefits of blockchain technology. Financial institutions are experimenting with blockchain to increase access and decrease trade-finance costs.

The shipping industry is working with those along the supply chain and with customs officials to see how a distributed digital ledger can facilitate the transparent movement of goods across borders and seas. Companies and retailers are exploring ways to track their own supply chains so they can communicate tracking and origin information to consumers who increasingly demand such information.

Among those that are all-in with blockchain is Blockshipping, a Danish concern that was launched in May 2018 with a goal of developing the world’s first freight container registry. The startup claims its blockchain-based Global Shared Container Platform, which provides a real-time registry of 27 million containers, could save the industry $5.7 billion annually. For that to work, parties across the industry must apply sensors to all containers.

The same month that Blockshipping announced its arrival, global shipping giants CMA CGM and the Mediterranean Shipping Co. joined TradeLens, the blockchain-based digital shipping platform developed three years ago by A.P. Moller-Maersk and IBM. TradeLens is an open and neutral blockchain platform that promotes an efficient, transparent and secure exchange of information to improve collaboration between different stakeholders within the supply chain.

Ironically, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd had criticized the workings of TradeLens in 2018, stating that for a blockchain-based platform to succeed within the industry, it would need to have a common standard. With CMA CGM and MSC now having joined TradeLens, the platform accounts for shipping data of over half the number of container lines that sail across international waters.

Surgere is a North Canton, Ohio-based digital supply chain and packaging specialist whose clients include Nissan and CEVA Logistics. In June, Surgere announced it had joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (Bita), a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based organization with nearly 500 members in more than 25 countries that collectively generate more than $1 trillion annually. The alliance helps develop industry standards, encourage the use of new solutions and educate its members who are mostly drawn from the freight, transportation and logistics sectors.

“Blockchain enables instant visibility of inventory transactions, captured by Surgere’s extremely accurate RFID solutions, which can be immediately and collectively processed throughout the supply chain,” said Rusty Coleman, Surgere’s vice-president of Digital Transformation, in the Bita announcement. “That visibility can remove artificially created demand patterns and make visible smooth and continuous demand for tier [suppliers] near real-time.”

Representatives from NBSF Railway, Daimler, Delta, J.B. Hunt, FedEx, Transplace and UPS are on the Bita board of directors, whose Standards Council chairman is Dale Chrystie, FedEx’s business strategist and blockchain fellow. “This is not a process improvement initiative; this is a breakthrough discussion,” Chrystie said from the stage of the Blockchain Revolution Global conference in Toronto on April 25. “This is a different way to think about how global clearance looks in the future.”

The notion that competitors are joining hands when it comes to the promise of blockchain was demonstrated by the fact that the FedEx executive was joined by Eugene Laney, head of international government affairs for DHL USA and Mahesh Sahasranaman, principal architect at UPS Supply Chain Solutions, in a discussion with Don Tapscott, executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute. Each agreed there is a common interest in embracing uniform standards for blockchain and getting governments on board with the technology.

“This is an issue that must be looked at with a global viewpoint,” Chrystie said. “These dots are going to connect. The question is how are you going to accelerate that process.”

Here is a deeper dive into ways blockchain can revolutionize the industry, according to the “Can Blockchain Technology Facilitate International Trade?” report from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

Trade and Finance

Blockchain could reduce the expense and time required to facilitate trade that depends on third-party lending or insurance. Such trade accounts for about 80 percent of global trade. This reduction of expense and time will be especially important for small and medium-sized enterprises that may face restrictions to accessing credit or for firms in countries with less developed finance markets.

Customs Procedures

The technology could reduce costs associated with obtaining import and export licenses, creating and verifying the accuracy of cargo and shipping documents, and making customs declarations. Blockchain could make a positive contribution to expediting customs procedures. The total impact of those procedures on global trade volumes and economic output is estimated to be greater than that of tariffs.

Tracking the Origin of Goods

Blockchain could improve how producers and retailers manage their supply chains by providing real-time information on the movement and origin of goods. Blockchain designed for trade should disallow anonymity. If such a design were to be widely adopted, it might improve detection of illicit trade flows and help deter illegitimate efforts to circumvent trade rules. A design without anonymity could aid customs and law enforcement while easing the flow of legitimate trade.

4 Challenges Blockchain Must Overcome To Achieve Mass Appeal

When most people think about blockchain, they likely associate it with Bitcoin or other types of cryptocurrency.

But the blockchain technology introduced a decade ago to serve as a secure database for transactions in the cryptocurrency world has plenty of uses beyond that – and potential for even more. Around the world, blockchain can be or already has been used in such areas as energy, tourism and financial services.

Yet, plenty of people still have little knowledge of this technological breakthrough that could transform how they do business and live their lives. That raises a couple of questions: Is blockchain ready for the masses? And are the masses ready for blockchain?

“Despite renewed investor interest, blockchain technology still needs to evolve to overcome some challenges before adoption reaches people who are not early adopters or who are not very tech savvy,” says Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com), a serial entrepreneur and an expert in blockchain.

Those challenges include:

Interaction with other systems. Blockchain’s growth depends on the technology’s ability to scale and interact with other systems and networks, Bensonoff says. “Right now, blockchain as a service is limited in performance because of slowed transaction processing times and the inability to have various blockchain platforms interact with each other,” he says. Just one way this challenge is being addressed is by developers creating consensus mechanisms, Bensonoff says. Consensus mechanisms refer to how participants in a blockchain network agree that the transactions recorded in the digital ledger are valid. “This mechanism creates a trust and validity in the transaction between participants who aren’t familiar with each other,” he says.

Cost and usability.  The cost of creating and implementing blockchain networks remains a significant barrier, Bensonoff says. One possible solution could be the introduction of cloud-based blockchain technology from tech giants such as IBM, Microsoft and others. “These companies have made cost reduction and scaling the crux of their business offerings,” he says. For blockchain to evolve, the average user experience also needs improvement, Bensonoff says. “The good news is that developers and blockchain companies are catching on, and working to create a more welcoming look and feel for consumers,” he says.

Regulation. If there’s a grey area in the blockchain world, regulation is it, although some states, such as Wyoming, and countries such as Malta, Estonia and Switzerland, are attempting to change that. “In the meantime, this regulatory limbo is affecting adoption, with many waiting for some finality in legislation before they implement their own blockchain solution,” Bensonoff says. As some states pass blockchain bills, hopes are high that others will follow suit, he says.

Privacy. Blockchain’s transparency is one of its strengths – and a weakness. Bensonoff points out that blockchain acts as a public ledger, which is necessary for the technology to provide trust and to verify transactions. But that can make use of blockchain troublesome for some industries, such as healthcare, which needs to protect the privacy of much of its data. Some solutions on the horizon, Bensonoff says, include making use of new developments like stealth addresses, ring-confidential transactions and state channels.

“Blockchain is definitely going to become more useful and more popular,” Kirill says. “But it must overcome these hurdles to get where it needs to be.”

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Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com) has over 20 years experience in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation as an advisor and investor in over 20 companies. In the information technology and cloud services space, Kirill founded US Web Hosting while still in college, was co-founder of ComputerSupport.com in 2006, and launched Unigma in 2015. As an innovator in the distributed ledger technology (DLT) space, Kirill launched the crypto startup Caviar in 2017 and has worked to build the blockchain community in Boston by hosting the Boston Crypto Meetup. He also is the founder of the Boston Blockchain Angels, producer and host of The Exchange with KB podcast and leads the Blockchain + AI Rising Angel.co syndicate. Kirill earned a B.S. degree from Connecticut State University, is a graduate of the EO Entrepreneurial Masters at MIT, and holds a number of technical certifications. He has been published or quoted in such national business, blockchain and technology media as Inc., Hacker Noon, Huffington Post, Bitcoin Magazine and CoinTelegraph.

 

Will Facebook’s Libra Help Bring Cryptocurrency To The Masses?

When Facebook announced plans for a stablecoin called Libra, the reaction from the cryptocurrency world ranged somewhere between skeptical and cautiously optimistic.

But, regardless of any specific merits of Facebook’s version of a digital coin, the social-media giant’s move could help speed the adoption of cryptocurrency to a larger audience, says Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com), a serial entrepreneur and an expert in blockchain.

The biggest issue now is that most people are not familiar with crypto; they think it’s difficult to use, and they may not trust it,” Bensonoff says. “Facebook will put a digital wallet on many phones and computers, and sending payments with crypto will become commonplace.”

Facebook’s Libra is proposed as a stablecoin, which is a form of cryptocurrency. Using Libra, people would be able to buy things or send money to others while paying, at most, minor fees. Unlike other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, the value of stablecoins is tied to an asset such as gold, the U.S. dollar, the Euro or other currencies.

Facebook won’t have complete control of Libra. It’s just part of a bigger group of partners that’s creating the stablecoin.

What might all this mean for the future of cryptocurrencies – and for the average person who still knows little about them? Bensonoff says a few things worth knowing about Libra in particular and stablecoins in general include:

-Bringing stability to cryptocurrency. As the name implies, the idea of stablecoins is to bring more stability – and more peace of mind for wary investors – to the world of cryptocurrency. “I don’t think Facebook will bring stability immediately,” Bensonoff says. “I believe it’s going to take a lot more in terms of mass adoption, but Libra could be a step in the right direction.”

-The SEC’s view. Regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission have been eyeing stablecoins with the possibility that some of them could be classified as securities. “That could put stablecoins in the same category as stocks, subject to the registration, disclosures, and accreditation of investors that demands,” Bensonoff says.

-Will Libra replace PayPal? Maybe not, considering that PayPay is one of the founding members of Libra, Bensonoff says. “I think they will have some influence on the direction,” he says. “However, crypto in general is a threat to all existing payment processors, including PayPal. I believe PayPal is smart and will adopt and accept crypto payments, and they will figure out a way to monetize it. The downside for them is they won’t be able to charge nearly as much as they do now.”

“I believe Libra is going to have a positive impact in terms of awareness, adoption and interest in cryptocurrency from both businesses and consumers,” Bensonoff says. “But at the same time, with that could come more regulatory scrutiny.”

About Kirill Bensonoff

Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com) has over 20 years experience in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation as a founder, advisor and investor in over 30 companies. He’s the CEO of OpenLTV, which gives investors across the world access to passive income, collateralized by real estate, powered by blockchain. In the information technology and cloud services space, Kirill founded U.S. Web Hosting while still in college, was co-founder of ComputerSupport.com in 2006, and launched Unigma in 2015. All three companies had a successful exit.

As an innovator in the blockchain and DLT space, Kirill launched the crypto startup Caviar in 2017 and has worked to build the blockchain community in Boston by hosting the Boston Blockchain, Fintech and Innovation Meetup. He is also the producer and host of The Exchange with KB podcast and leads the Blockchain + AI Rising Angel.co syndicate. Kirill earned a B.S. degree from Connecticut State University, is a graduate of the EO Entrepreneurial Masters at MIT, and holds a number of technical certifications. He has been published or quoted in Inc., Hacker Noon, The Street, Forbes, Huffington Post, Bitcoin Magazine and Cointelegraph and many others.

blockchain

BLOCKCHAIN COULD REPLACE MOUNDS OF PAPER AT THE BORDER

This is the third in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

What’s Even Better Than No Tariffs?

Smoother and faster customs procedures could boost global trade volumes and economic output even more than if governments were to eliminate the remaining tariffs throughout the world – up to six times according to an estimate by the World Bank.

Blockchain is a promising technology that, if widely adopted by shippers and customs agencies, could reduce the current mounds of paperwork and costs associated with import and export licenses, cargo and shipping documents, and customs declarations.

Below the Snazzy Surface of Trade Policy

Trade agreements work when the people who want to buy and sell across borders can use them. Engaging in international trade transactions requires diving into the rules and regulations of international customs processes. Businesses either have someone in-house to handle this or they hire companies whose business it is to manage these processes.

Moving goods through the customs process means preparing the relevant paperwork for import or export at each step in the process. The paperwork at each step must be confirmed and verified, sometimes separately by different people. These procedures — in rich and poor countries alike — can be complex, opaque and laden with inefficiencies that raise costs and cause delays at best. At worst, less automated processes can leave the door open to corruption and security breaches.

paperwork in shipping

Trade policymakers have increasingly focused on simplifying and modernizing customs procedures — a policy approach commonly known as “trade facilitation.” Nearly all modern free trade agreements have a trade facilitation chapter and the World Trade Organization has an entire Trade Facilitation Agreement devoted to eliminating red tape at national borders to streamline the global movement of goods.

Too Much Paperwork

The international shipping industry carries 90 percent of the world’s trade in goods but is surprisingly dependent on paper documentation. In a New York Times article, Danish shipping company Maersk commented that tracking containers is straightforward. It’s the “mountains of paperwork that go with each container” that slow down the process.

A shipping container can spend significant time just waiting for someone to cross the t’s and dot the i’s on the paperwork. Delays pose real costs to traders and represent a deadweight loss of resources that could have been spent elsewhere in a more productive manner. The cost of handling documentation is so high that it can be even more expensive than the cost of transporting the actual shipping containers.

Beginning in 2014, Maersk began tracking specific goods such as avocados and cut flowers to determine the true weight of compliance costs and intermediation. The company discovered that a single container moving from Africa to Europe required nearly 200 communications and the verification and approval of more than 30 organizations involved in customs, tax and health-related matters. Maersk’s office in Kenya has storage rooms filled from floor to ceiling with paper records dating back to 2014.

single container paperwork v2

Lost Opportunities

Inefficiencies in customs processes create chain reactions, extending the costs and inefficiencies throughout the transportation industry and all the way to the consumer. In just one example, as many as 1,500 trucks might be lined up on a given day on both sides of the critical border crossing between Bangladesh and India. Many trucks wait up to five days before crossing. Examples like this are not hard to find in developing countries.

Delays for perishable items are painfully costly for traders, but also for consumers. Economist Lan Liu and economist and horticultural scientist Chengyan Yue examinedlettuce and apple imports in 183 countries. They determined that reducing delays from two days to one would increase lettuce imports in those countries by around 35 percent, or an additional 504,714 tons of lettuce, increasing in world consumer welfare by $2.1 billion. The same improvement would increase apple imports by 15 percent, enabling shipment of an additional 731,937 tons and increasing consumer welfare by around $1.1 billion.

Complexity Makes Corruption Easier

Fraud constitutes a major threat to the customs process. Fraudulent behavior can involve the forgery of bills of lading and other export documentation such as certifications of origin. A fraudulent shipper could claim “lost” goods, underreport the cargo, and steal the difference. Or a shipper could misrepresent the amount or quality of shipped goods and pay less than the required amount for their imports.

Fraud can be perpetrated by a shipper, by the receiver of goods, a customs official, or an interloping third party. The greater the complexity of customs procedures and the more discretion granted to customs officials, the more likely corruption will be present at the border, creating both risk and costs for companies working to avoid corruption.

Indeed, corruption acts as a “hidden tariff” for companies and reduces legitimate customs revenue for governments. The World Customs Organization estimates the loss of revenue caused by customs-related corruption to be at least $2 billion.

Blockchain Makes Corruption Harder

Blockchain is a digital distributed ledger that is secure by design. Each transaction in the shipping process is uploaded to the chain if (and only if) it is agreed upon by the other users. It is nearly impossible to make a fraudulent claim or edit past transactions without the approval of the other users in the network.

Blockchain could discourage corruption by simplifying procedures and reducing the number of government offices and officials involved in each transaction. Each transaction can also be audited in real time, allowing users to see exactly when and where disputes arise and exactly what the discrepancies are.

This level of transparency enables participants in the network to hold each other accountable for mistakes or purposeful deception. Though blockchain does not prevent false information from being entered into the system, it does reduce opportunities for the original information to be corrupted by intermediaries involved in the shipping process. Rather than parties relying on the good faith of shippers and customs agents, blockchain greater assurance of the integrity of each transactional record.

Blockchain technology in customs and border-crossing procedures could also be used to prevent circumvention and transshipment—that is, when shippers send goods to a neighboring country before the destination country in an attempt to avoid tariffs on goods from the real country of origin. The importer ends up liable for duties and penalties. (For example, some exporters from China are now sending finished products through Vietnam to avoid new U.S. tariffs on goods from China.)

All In on Blockchain?

The use of blockchain in customs processing is still nascent. An advisory group for U.S. Customs and Border Protection is broadly exploring the role of emerging technologies like blockchain.

IBM and Maersk have partnered to demonstrate how blockchain can simplify shipping. Their plan would allow all parties involved in a container’s shipment to observe and track the container from inception to endpoint. For example, after a customs agent verifies the contents of a container, they can immediately upload information to the blockchain with a unique digital fingerprint that visible to all other users. The ease of access to information throughout the blockchain system reduces time-consuming correspondence among the parties.

For all this to work, customs agencies, shippers and suppliers will have to cooperate to integrate blockchain technology along the supply chain and across borders. By reducing time and cost, blockchain could be a boon to the majority of honest global shippers. By providing greater accuracy and transparency, blockchain would be a bust for dishonest brokers who manipulate the current inefficiencies in customs procedures to commit fraud or gain from corruption.

ChristineMcDaniel

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

 

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

blockchain

SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED GLOBAL TRADERS ARE BANKING ON BLOCKCHAIN

This is the second in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

Give Me Some Credit

Every business requires capital to operate. To sell products to customers overseas, many companies also need trade financing and insurance from third-party lenders. About 80 percent of all global trade is transacted through third-party lenders and cargo insurers, but the process is complex, can be costly and many banks find it too risky to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Blockchain has the potential to increase transparency, speed and accuracy in assessing risk across the trade finance process, which in turn could expand the supply of credit available for international trade transactions – good news especially for SMEs that face significant hurdles accessing credit. Here’s how.

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

Buyers who import goods from sellers in other countries generally want to pay upon receiving the merchandise so they can verify its physical integrity on arrival. Exporters, on the other hand, generally prefer to be paid as soon as they ship the goods. Trade finance can bridge this gap.

Exporters and importers engage third-party lenders and insurers who will guarantee payments on the basis of collateral and indemnify the exporter, importer and related parties in the event that the merchandise is damaged, stolen or lost while in transit. In this way, trade finance provides the credit, payment guarantee and insurance needed to facilitate an international trade transaction on terms that will satisfy all parties.

80% of trade relies on finance

Steps on the Trade Journey

Intermediaries such as freight forwarders typically manage the physical journey of merchandise, from the original producer to the border, across the border (maybe several borders), and to the final buyer.

Each step must be verified: when was the merchandise transported from the factory or farm to a warehouse, when was it moved from the warehouse to a container, when was the container loaded onto a ship, when did the ship get underway, when was the container unloaded from the ship at port, and when was the merchandise transported from the port to the end consumer.

Different trade finance instruments, such as lending, letters of credit, factoring and cargo insurance cover legs of the journey. A letter of credit is a guarantee from a bank that a buyer’s payment will be received and be on time or else the bank will take responsibility for the payment. Factoring is accounts receivable financing to accelerate cash flow. Cargo insurance insures the merchandise while en route.

Without Finance, Trade Would Sink

The World Trade Organization estimates that 80 percent of global trade relies on trade finance or credit insurance. The global trade finance sector (i.e., the global volume of letters of credit) is worth roughly $2.8 trillion. Demand for trade financing exceeds availability, resulting in the underutilization of existing capital. According to the Asian Development Bank, the global trade finance gap — the difference between the demand for and supply of trade finance — has reached $1.6 trillion.

SMEs Face a 50 Percent Rejection Rate

The shortfall in supply reflects the complex and risky nature of trade finance which often involves multiple parties. Before banks will issue letters of credit in trade finance, they require potential customers to present a solid credit history and a strong balance sheet, conditions that tend to favor larger institutions.

SMEs typically experience more difficulty navigating the trade finance process and dealing with the cost and complexity of banking regulations than larger companies. In 2014, SMEs had trade finance requests before financial institutions rejected at a rate of over 50 percent. In comparison, the rejection rate for multinational corporations was only seven percent.

Links in the Trade Finance Chain

According to the United Nations, there are typically eight major steps required to obtain a letter of credit, although in practice the Credit Research Foundation lists more than twenty. Each step of the process is dependent on the previous steps, and some steps involve sending the same document back and forth for verification purposes. The administrative burden is greater for SMEs than for large firms.

survey of 2,350 SMEs and 850 large firms conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2010 showed that lack of access to credit is the major constraint for SME manufacturing firms seeking to export or expand into new markets and it is one of the top three constraints for SME services firms.

rate of rejection for trade finance

How Blockchain Can Help Ease Trade Finance

Requirements to authenticate each transaction in the trade finance and insurance process can engender large amounts of paperwork and cause delays at each step. Every handoff must be approved and verified.

Instead, blockchain uses digital tokens that are issued by each participant in the supply chain to authenticate the movement of goods. Every time the item changes hands, the token moves in lockstep. The real-world chain of custody is mirrored by a chain of transactions recorded in the blockchain.

The token acts as a virtual “certificate of authenticity” that is much harder to steal, forge or hack than a piece of paper, barcode or digital file. The records can be trusted and greatly improve the information available to assure supply-chain quality.

Using blockchain as a digital ledger for these handoffs would allow involved parties to instantly track and receive secure information about the traded goods. Parties can monitor the entire shipping process and verify the completion of each step in real time. This increased transparency and ease of monitoring reduces the risk that a borrower presents to a potential lender or insurer.

Banking on Blockchain

A number of financial institutions are piloting the use of blockchain-enabled trade finance platforms.

Bank of America, HSBC, and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore collaborated in 2016 to develop a trade finance application designed “to streamline the manual processing of import/export documentation, improve security by reducing errors, increase convenience for all parties through mobile interaction, and make companies’ working capital more predictable.” Using the application, each action in the workflow is captured in a distributed ledger and all parties (the exporter, the importer, and their respective banks) can visualize data in real time, offering transparency to authorized participants while ensuring confidential data is protected through encryption.

Barclays used blockchain in 2017 to issue letter of credit that reportedly guaranteed the export of $100,000 worth of agricultural products from Irish cooperative Ornua to the Seychelles Trading Company, noting the parties were able to execute a deal in four hours that would usually take up to 10 days to complete.

A group of European banks launched a trade finance blockchain platform in July 2018, initially focused on facilitating small and medium-sized businesses trading within Europe. In September 2018, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced plans to launch a trade finance blockchain platform. Twenty-one banks are participating in the platform, including large institutions such as HSBC and Standard Chartered. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is also reportedly working with its counterpart in Singapore to develop a blockchain-based trade finance network to settle cross-border transactions.

Lessons for Trade Policymakers

As the trade finance industry begins to utilize blockchain technology, there are some potential implications worthy of policymakers’ attention.

First, the large number of intermediaries and corresponding administrative costs in trade finance tend to fall particularly hard on SMEs and the relatively higher cost of each transaction makes SME financing less attractive to banks. If blockchain can reduce the costs of trade finance, more small and medium-sized businesses could trade globally.

Second, although blockchain technology does not alter the fundamental credit risk of borrowers, the increased transparency and access to information it delivers could improve the accuracy of banks’ risk assessments. If perceived risk is greater than actual risk, a nontrivial number of loan applications may be denied even though those loans have the potential to be successful. If blockchain brings greater confidence and issuance of good loans — that is, those that are paid back — the transactions they support would bring value to the economy.

In these important ways, blockchain can increase transparency across the trade finance process and decrease risk for all parties, in turn expanding the supply of credit available for international trade transactions.

ChristineMcDaniel

 

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

new tech

How To Introduce Employees To New Tech

New technology solutions can have a positive impact, not just your how you work, but on your office culture. Sometimes new platforms that drastically change your regular processes can intimidate and alienate workers who are used to working in traditional systems and procedures.

It’s normal for workers to at first be apprehensive to big changes when they’ve grown used to the way things have been done for years. That’s why it’s important to see things from their point of view and understand that change is tough.

Help Them See The Value

When introducing new tech solutions to your colleagues, it’s important to make them understand why you’re implementing it and what it will do for the business. Explain not just how it will benefit the business in general, but how it will benefit their specific roles and what the impact will be.

If it’s a tool that’s meant to streamline a certain process, be sure to impress on them that the time saved will allow them to focus on more and grow their roles. If it’s a solution that’s meant to free up more resources, discuss with them how they now direct that saved budget and labor to more productive things. If they can see the value it will bring to them as an individual, you can make them excited to learn more about it and look forward to its implementation.

Document management solutions represent a big shift in how businesses interact with their documents, especially if you’re transitioning from a mostly paper-driven structure. However, it’s a technology that vastly improves business processes by introducing tools like automation and intelligent organization.

Make a Plan and Keep Them In The Loop

Many big tech solutions require time for implementation and onboarding. It rarely happens overnight, so having a roadmap for implementation is essential to make sure it all goes smoothly. More importantly, staying transparent with your employees on this roadmap is helpful in easing them into the new system. Letting them know what they can expect during the implementation period can give them ease and let them know that they have time to get used to the transition rather than just diving in.

Give Them Time

New technology always has a learning curve, and this is especially true for those who aren’t used to working with it as part of their job. While some are quick learners and early adopters, there is an equal number of those who have more of a struggle learning how things work. They won’t get it overnight, so it’s important to be patient and encouraging. A transitional period where they’re still allowed to get their job done the old way while learning the new way is encouraged if possible. As long as they’re willing to learn and not resistant, it’s worth it to let them grow at their own pace, all while providing the necessary support such as additional training and mentoring.

Incentivize

If some employees are more resistant than others to adopt new platforms, it doesn’t hurt to throw out some incentives to encourage them to embrace the change. Having perks such as free lunch with training will make those employees a little more enthusiastic about attending those meetings.

Get creative with tying small rewards to the use of the new tech solution as well as implying bigger forms of recognition for demonstrating proficiency and enthusiasm for the new system. Letting them know that the skills learned from training will reflect across their entire career and showcase their adaptability.

Listen to Them

Taking in feedback is an important part of any business decision, not listening to your employee’s opinions and concerns about adopting a new tech solution. Encouraging an environment where your colleagues can discuss freely their experience with the current processes and how introducing a new factor that will impact those processes will help inform how you build out your implementation roadmap and how you go about training. Being open to their ideas of how to transition and addressing their concerns will make them feel part of the process and not feel like it’s being forced upon them.

Jesse Wood is the CEO of eFileCabinet, a best-of-breed advanced document management system that improves the lives of people, small to enterprise-level businesses, and their clients. Wood has 20 years of leadership experience innovating custom technical solutions for a wide range of business applications.

 

How Amazon Leads as a Supply Chain Provider

It’s no surprise Amazon made our list of the most successful companies in the supply-chain arena. Amazon is known for implementing game-changing processes that keep competitors on their toes. An example of this is seen through the recently announced Supply Chain Connect FBA program for sellers to utilize. This new shipping platform combines the elements of a centralized portal and increased communication efficiencies. Supply Chain Connect is another way Amazon provides increased visibility from start to finish for both shippers and suppliers.

Another example of supply-chain innovations Amazon offers is the company’s managed blockchain service. This platform allows its customers to seamlessly select a framework, add members and configure member nodes while Amazon Managed Blockchain handles creating a robust blockchain network in a matter of clicks versus the dragged-out process of setting up each step. Additionally, the Amazon Managed Blockchain provides secure blockchain network certificates through the AWS Key Management Service. This service also contains an integrated voting API, giving members immediate access to add or remove other members.

“Many of our customers want to build applications where multiple parties can execute transactions without a central, trusted authority, and they also need to create a blockchain network,” says Rahul Pathak, general manager, Amazon Blockchain at AWS. “Building a scalable blockchain network with existing technologies is just too hard today, and that’s why customers pay expensive consultants to help them.”

“Amazon Managed Blockchain eliminates the muck involved in setting up a network, adding and removing members, and scaling to meet application demands. Customers can use either Ethereum or Hyperledger Fabric, the two most popular blockchain frameworks, and get a functioning blockchain network set up with just a few clicks.”

Successful implementation of a reliable blockchain network creates new advantages for companies while reducing errors that sometimes go unnoticed and lost. With this new technology opportunity for customers, Amazon again sets a new standard for all companies in the supply-chain arena. Customers rely on what works, bottom-line upfront. Even more so, customers are looking to save time to invest in maximizing their own operations.

“AWS has been a great partner in our journey to innovate in the field of blockchain, and with Amazon Managed Blockchain, we are able to more efficiently create a blockchain network and configure our member nodes in minutes,” says Jon Ruggiero, senior vice president, Workday. “AWS’ use of enhanced Hyperledger Fabric enables the blockchain network to be even more robust, scalable and easier to manage. We’re excited for what we’ll be able to accomplish with this service as the number of members and transaction volumes grow.”

Blockchain

Where Have You Been? Blockchain for Tracking Goods in Trade.

Why is it so hard to track the origin of a diamond, or take longer than we’d like to trace the source of a food safety outbreak? It turns out that we’ve been tracking the supply chain in some really antiquated ways, but that’s about to change thanks to blockchain.

Origins and Travels

The “provenance” of a good refers to its origin as well as a chronological record of its ownership, location, and other important information as it moves along a supply and distribution network.

Many companies are exploring the use of blockchain technologies to help track this information much deeper into their supply chains than previously feasible. A retailer, for example, might require detailed information about materials, components, and ingredients as would manufacturers sourcing from a variety of suppliers.

Using blockchain technologies to track the origins of raw materials and follow domestic and international supply chains can also help meet the increasing demand for consumer information about globally produced goods, providing more transparency and accuracy about a product’s long journey to the store.

How Blockchain Can Help

Blockchain works to track the provenance of a good thanks to digital tokens that are issued by each participant in the supply chain to authenticate its movement. Every time the item changes hands, the token moves in lockstep. The real-world chain of custody is mirrored by a chain of transactions recorded in the blockchain.

The token acts as a virtual “certificate of authenticity” that is much harder to steal, forge or hack than a piece of paper, barcode or digital file. The records can be trusted and greatly improve the information available to assure supply-chain quality.

Blockchain technology can also make the audit process more efficient. The ledger distributes responsibility to the owners of pieces of information while ensuring verification along the way. The transactions are transparent to parties on a permission basis.

Consumers Want to Know

Surveys show that consumers in the United States and around the world are becoming more aware and interested in the origins of the merchandise they buy and the food they consume. Many also want to know how production processes of the goods they consume impact the environment and society.

The Pew Research Center found that 75 percent of Americans are “particularly concerned” for the environment, and 83 percent make an effort at least some of the time to live in ways that protect the environment. Nearly three out of four Millennials surveyed by Nielsen say they would pay extra for “sustainable” products and brands with a reputation for environmental stewardship. When it comes to food products, 71 percent of people surveyed by Label Insight said they want access to a comprehensive list of ingredients when deciding what food to buy.

Sustainable Coffee, Genuine Brand Purses and Conflict Diamonds

Retailers are concerned that brand loyalty is on the decline. But with some products, high consumer demand for product information is associated with higher expenditures, meaning people might pay more for a product they believe is ethically or sustainably sourced or manufactured. Blockchain can be used by companies to verify the claims their customers care about.

Take Starbucks, for example. Since 2004, the company has worked to support farmer livelihoods through its Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) program. In 2015, they announced that 99 percent of their coffee was “ethically sourced,” complying with a set of principles and practices at each step of the supply chain from farm to cup. Last year, they took traceability to the next level by piloting the use of blockchain to create a transparent and direct connections with tens of thousands of coffee farmers. Customers can now see up close a supplier’s sustainability practices.

Worried your designer handbag isn’t the real deal? The luxury goods industry is seeking to use blockchain to verify the authenticity of its product. Brand name shoes, dresses or purses would have specific codes that retailers and consumers could use to track changes in ownership. Given the decentralized blockchain platform and multiple authentication processes to update the ledgers, fraudulent entries will be nearly impossible. The auditable and tamper-proof records produced through blockchain technology could help combat trade in counterfeit goods, which is a $1.77 trillion problem for manufacturers according to the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition.

Blockchain is a promising development for the diamond industry, which struggles to prevent so-called “conflict diamonds” from entering their value chains. A United Nations panel reportedly found that 140,000 carats of diamonds were still being smuggled out of the Central African Republic between 2013 and 2015 and traded illicitly to finance armed conflict despite an export ban. De Beers, which controls 37 percent of the global diamond market, reported earlier this year that it was able to track 100 high-value diamonds from mine to retailer using blockchain technology.

Food Safety and Quick Recalls

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, becomes ill as the result of a foodborne pathogen (e.g., salmonella, listeria, or E. coli). Blockchain technology will not necessarily prevent outbreaks but could be used to track their source more quickly and prevent outbreaks from becoming epidemics. Retailers and regulators could use the distributed ledger technology for accurate and rapid information about potentially contaminated food.

Walmart is pioneering the use of blockchain to maintain easily accessible records of food provenance. In a simulated recall, The company was able to trace the origin of a bag of sliced mangoes in 2.2 seconds compared with the 6 days, 18 hours, and 26 minutes it would take using a standard approach of working with suppliers.

Australian exporter InterAgri is experimenting with using blockchain to track the production and global delivery of its Black Angus Aussie Beef. Teaming up with JD.com, a major e-commerce site in China, InterAgri aims to detect and eliminate food fraud such as counterfeit Aussie beef illegally marketed in China. By some cost estimates, food fraud affects approximately 10 percent of all commercially sold food products, creating food safety concerns for the consumer and liability issues for producers.

Coming to a Shelf Near You

In principle, blockchain could be applied to tracking provenance information for virtually any good, from agricultural commodities to luxury goods. Although blockchain technology is still not prevalent or the industry standard, more producers and retailers are exploring ways to track their own supply chains to increase quality assurance and their ability to communicate information about their products to consumers.

It will take trial and error and significant work with suppliers to ensure interoperability and efficiencies, but such experimentation will be essential if the U.S. and global economies are to realize the benefits of blockchain in international trade.

This is the first in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

ChristineMcDaniel

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Used with permission.