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Paperless trade platform provider essDocs will launch a series of blockchain-based trade solutions, having entered a strategic partnership with Swisscom Blockchain.

Founded in 2015, essDocs already offers a range of non-blockchain solutions to digitise trade finance and logistics documents, including the bill of lading. Swisscom Blockchain, meanwhile, is a blockchain advisory that helps companies design, build and implement distributed ledger applications. It was established last year.

In a statement, essDocs says the two companies will “leverage their respective resources and expertise to enable companies to digitise their trade and trade finance processes swiftly, efficiently and with minimal friction”.

The parties have already started testing their first collaborative product, which will officially launch in Q1 2019.

essDocs CEO Alexander Goulandris says the firms will offer “value-adding blockchain solutions” such as traceability, cross-platform connectivity and solution-data distribution.

“Our joint solutions will first and foremost focus on transition technology, bridging data ‘gaps’, paper-based processes and technological silos with the end goal of secure, automated digital trade,” he says.

Also commenting on the partnership, Daniel Haudenschild, CEO of Swisscom Blockchain, hints that blockchain technology will enable them to tackle the challenge of mass adoption that digitalisation efforts in the trade industry have historically faced.

“Along the journey, both our companies will support a use-focused approach in order to unleash the true potential blockchain and digitalisation has to offer to the trade, trade finance and logistics community,” he adds.

The partnership marks essDocs’ official foray into blockchain, a technology widely explored by other trade finance tech firms and banking consortia. Bolero, its much older competitor founded in 1998, has been working with blockchain firm R3 for more than a year to give its electronic bill of lading service a blockchain upgrade. This has evolved into Bolero taking part in a number of pilots of the Voltron platform, a blockchain project run by R3 and eight global banks to ease the exchange of trade finance documentation.

In November, for example, Bolero’s electronic bills of lading solution was used in a Voltron-based trade transaction involving HSBC, ING, Reliance Industries and Tricon Energy. The integration enabled the digital transfer of title of goods on the blockchain.

At the time, essDocs was mentioned as another electronic document provider that could be incorporated with the Voltron platform.

Chris Sunderman, blockchain initiative lead for trade finance services at ING, told GTR: “When you look at the trade ecosystem, the world is large, and companies do not per se work with one provider of e-documents; there are also companies like essDocs and eTitle. So within project Voltron, the banks agreed to investigate and analyse the application of other solutions as well. We need to incorporate other solutions to make the lives of our clients as easy as possible.” He also confirmed that the consortium is currently in discussions with essDocs, which is interested in working with them.

The moves by Bolero and essDocs to build blockchain solutions come as the competition in this space is heating up, with a range of other tech firms and consortia seeing trade documentation as an obvious home for the new technology. The nature of blockchain, being a decentralised technology, makes it ideal for the trade industry, as it allows multiple parties to exchange information in real time, while securely being able to track and transfer assets.

One of the first firms to make headlines for its blockchain-based trade documentation solution is Israeli startup Wave. In 2016, it completed what became known as the world’s first live blockchain trade transaction with Barclays and is now working towards releasing a commercial bill of lading solution.

This was followed by the foundation of Slovenia-based blockchain firm CargoX, which raised over US$7mn in an ICO in late January. Last month, the firm announced that its blockchain-based bill of lading platform is now commercially available, having spent the second half of 2018 conducting pilots with a number of logistics providers.

Meanwhile, Maersk is working with IBM to build and expand TradeLens, a blockchain platform that enables users in the shipping ecosystem to interact efficiently, access real-time shipping data and digitalise and exchange trade documentation. Already, more than 92 organisations are participating in the platform’s early adopter programme.

And more recently, some of the world’s top container lines and terminal operators formed a consortium, Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN), again with the same goal: to develop a new blockchain-based platform for the global trade ecosystem.

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