It’s no secret that shipping giant Maersk and IBM have been serious and steadfast in their efforts to pioneer a global trade supply-chain blockchain solution, but a complete product has now become a bit more tangible.


Brought out of beta yesterday (August 9), the entity has been dubbed TradeLens, and it follows a year-long trial consisting of about 154m transactions across a complex web of shippers, freight forwarders, ocean carriers, ports and customs authorities.


The shipping companies now involved, which include Hamburg Sud (recently acquired by Maersk) and Pacific International Lines – along with many of the types of companies mentioned above – means TradeLens’ now accounts for over a fifth of the global supply-chain market share, according to Forbes, and is connected to 20 port and terminal operators and serves 235 marine gateways around the world.


“We believe blockchain can play an important role in digitising global shipping, an area of the global economy that moves four trillion dollars of goods every year,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Global Industries, solutions and blockchain. “However, success with the technology rests on a single factor –bringing the entire ecosystem together around a common approach that benefits all participants equally.”


As it continues to grow by a million transactions a day, the entity is now accepting early adopter applications, as well as launching a new smart contract service called ClearWay for executing shipping orders with much less reliance on the middleman. The trade document module enables importers and exporters, customs brokers, government agencies and NGOs to collaborate in business processes and information exchanges, backed by secure non-repudiable audit trail.


During the 12-month trial where Maersk and IBM worked with partners to identify logistical pain-points – be they documentation errors, information delay, or otherwise – in one case they reduced the transit time of a shipment of packaging materials to the US by 40%, saving “thousands of dollars” in cost. Even for basic queries, such as the location of a specific shipping container at a dock, the better visibility and communication facilitated by TradeLes could reduce the steps and people taken to answer from 10 and five personel, to one step and one person.


“TradeLens uses blockchain technology to create an industry standard for the secure digitisation and transmission of supply chain documents around the world,” commented Peter Levesque, CEO of Modern Terminals. “This initiative will generate tremendous savings for our industry over time while enhancing global supply chain security.”


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