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Building a decentralised supply chain

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By: Amit Ghosh, Head of Asia Pacific for Blockchain Enterprise software firm R3 

China’s role as origin of many supply chains means that any major disruption within the country has a knock-on effect on global supply chains all over the world. 

Decentralisation of supply chains and the trade finance networks that fuel them can mitigate this risk and disruption, writes Amit Ghosh, Head of Asia Pacific at R3. 

After the events of the last two years, it’s been made clear that supply chain decentralisation is necessary. There is too much of a heavy reliance on specific cities for certain trade routes. In 2020, research showed that more than 200 of the Fortune Global 500 firms have presence in Wuhan . 

In line with this, the need to decentralise supply chains was recognised last year when trade ministers of Japan, India and Australia agreed to work towards achieving supply chain resilience, citing digitisation of trade procedures as part of their initiative.  

So, how do we decentralise supply chains? Blockchain technology provides the key.

The need for digitisation

Many of the processes and technologies underpinning trade finance have not been modernised in decades. The result is that those transactions continue to rely on paper-heavy processing, unsuitable for the current digital age. Traditional technology required corporates to log into multiple portals and juggle relationships and documentation for each shipment. In addition, businesses must navigate the growing threat of cyber-attacks, changing regulations, and ever-changing sanctions lists. Despite this complexity, cumbersome and time-consuming paper-based exchanges are still commonplace.   

By digitising these manual processes and superseding ageing legacy systems, a technology such as blockchain has a real impact on reducing the costs, risks and delays to participants involved in trade finance. If applied effectively, the technology has the potential to unlock what the Asian Development Bank has identified as a potential $1.5 trillion opportunity in global trade finance. Companies of all sizes will benefit from better visibility into trading relationships and easier access to financing options, beyond point-to-point relationships, to a global network of trading parties.  

A single source of truth

Blockchain’s integration across the financial services ecosystem has delivered some encouraging results so far. For example, Standard Chartered and supply chain fintech services company, Linklogis Rally, will jointly create a blockchain-based trade finance platform. This will provide a radically transparent, faster, and hassle-free way to access working capital for supply chain participants.

 There is growing debate about how blockchain can provide solutions to solve many of the problems facing trade financing.  

One such solution is real-time visibility, which is available via permissioned access to authorised network users and gives buyers and sellers unprecedented transparency into the status of their transactions.   

This single source of truth and use of smart contracts could remove a number of inefficiencies in the paper-heavy processes that exist in trade finance, such as negotiations of letters of credit. In addition, settlement finality removes the need for intermediaries to perform reconciliations. All of these applications could streamline the entire process.   

A digitised and connected trade ecosystem

For supply chains to maximise digital efficiency, mass adoption on a global scale is essential. This elusive network can only be achieved if technology players prioritise forward-thinking and inclusive integration solutions that lower the barrier to entry for all types of companies involved in the trading process. 

If only a handful of firms adopt a blockchain solution for supply chains, the benefits such as speed efficiency and lower costs mean nothing, as you don’t have the counterparties to connect with.  

Like any piece of enterprise technology, blockchain will be most useful when used in conjunction with existing systems. The reality is that most businesses are not full digitally native and so will continue to rely on legacy systems – all to different extents – in the near future.   

The key to unlocking blockchain’s true potential, therefore, is not to try and oust these but to make sure the technology fits into the right places, with minimal cost and disruption to a firm’s day-to-day business. Integration holds the key to rewiring the $8 trillion global trade finance market.  

Blockchain technology can bring untold benefits to existing trade networks. It can enable them to run more smoothly, quickly, and efficiently and ensure that, when the world faces another crisis, there is no single, centralised point of failure.

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