Blockchain technology is bringing the biggest changes the container shipping industry has seen in decades, eliminating paper and antiquated processes.
The world’s biggest shipping company, Maersk, was the first to embark upon digitizing the global supply chain. The Danish conglomerate developed a blockchain-enabled shipping platform in collaboration with IBM called TradeLens, which launched last summer. Using the same technology that powers digital currencies like Bitcoin, TradeLens allows users to share data across a network, and track and manage what has traditionally been a complex and costly paper trail.
“Still lots of processes in our industry actually predate the container,” said Vincent Clerc, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Maersk. “Even today customers live with the administrative burden of having to maintain the huge amount of paperwork and not having visibility of what is happening with their goods.”
TradeLens has grown rapidly, with more than 100 cargo owners, as well as shipping lines, port and customs authorities and freight forwarders coming aboard. On May 28, Geneva-based carrier Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and France’s CMA CGM announced their participation. Since MSC and CMA CGM are the world’s second- and fourth-largest container shipping companies respectively, this means nearly half of all cargo shipped by sea, accounting for 90% of traded goods worldwide, will be tracked on TradeLens.
Rodolphe Saade, Chairman and Chief Executive of CMA CGM, emphasized the benefits of the neutral, industry-wide nature of the blockchain platform, saying that competitors would all benefit from TradeLens having greater scale, Reuters reports. “The fact that we are joining forces and creating a standard in the industry is much more powerful,” he said. CMA CGM is also part of a blockchain technology initiative with Asian shipping firms called GSBN.
More than $4 trillion in goods are shipped each year, and over 80% of the goods consumers use every day are transported by the ocean shipping industry, according to Maersk. Paperwork accounts for about 20% on average of the cost of moving a container from one place to another. Clerc said that much of this cost can be eliminated once TradeLens is used at full scale. “Digital collaboration is key to the evolution of the container shipping industry,” said André Simha, Chief Digital & Innovation Officer at MSC.