TradeLens plans to connect to China’s ports after signing a partnership with China Unicom Digital Tech and has cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a key driver of the technology’s rapid implementation.
The company, a collaboration between A.P Moller-Maersk (Maersk) and IBM, recently announced it would launch in China to ease the flow of cargo and containerised traffic.
Speaking to PTI, Thomas Sproat, Senior Director Network Development at GTD Solution and TradeLens, said there has been “rapid uptake” of TradeLens’ Electronic Bill of Lading (e-B/L) since the beginning of the pandemic.
This has been caused by the increasing need for “touchless, digitised trade”, Sproat said, before noting that China has been host to “many strong use cases”.
Sproat described the agreement with China Unicom Digital Tech as an “important milestone” in TradeLens’ development as the country is a “very important market for its customers”.
It is another sign that the electronic Bill of Lading (e-B/L) is becoming more popular as supply chain stakeholders look to become more resilient amid major crises.
Jerry Guan, Senior Commercial Manager Network Development at GTD Solution and the TradeLens platform, said the Chinese market has built a “good awareness” of the technology’s potential and is increasingly “open for its adoption”.
Guan said China sees blockchain as “an important breakthrough for independent innovation of core technologies”.
According to Guan, the project to roll out TradeLens in China was launched following a stringent evaluation of the market to find a partner that could help it meet the country’s specific regulations around telecom licensing.
“As part of the collaboration, China Unicom Digital Tech will host and operate TradeLens in the Chinese Mainland, making it available to global exporters and importers in China, along with other supply chain partners,” Guan said.
Among the supply chain partners will be China’s network of ports and terminals. The country is home to many of the biggest ports in the world and one in three containers globally is exported through a Chinese hub.
“We look forward to connecting directly to all major terminals and enhancing the visibility of containerized cargo end-to-end, direct from the source with the information from these critical terminals,” Guan said.
On how it will measure success in its China roll out, Guan said TradeLens is focused on facilitating the trusted efficient and secure informational flow of global container logistics.
“This benefits exporters, importers, freight forwarders, 3PLs, and Financial Services,” Guan said. “The key therefore for TradeLens is to drive adoption and deliver value and ROI for our customers.”
Pandemic driving innovation on land and sea
The pandemic has led to Tradelens’ customers needing enhanced visibility more than ever to drive efficiency and improve resilience, Sproat noted.
Additionally, the pandemic has also caused “increased the urgency for solutions that reduced the need for face-to-face interaction,” according to Sproat.
Customers in all parts of the world are “looking for more real-time data on where their cargo is at any given point in time” and TradeLens can also support the digitisation of inland supply chains, Sproat said.
Improving visibility on the ocean side has been a major business trend in the maritime industry, and there is an ever-increasing need to replicate that inland if stakeholders are going to benefit from connectivity.
This end-to-end requirement means there must also be a directly connected ecosystem to provide the data in near-real-time to all those that need it, Sproat said.
“[The customers] have required digital solutions to handle trade documents that have helped reduce disruptions created by the pandemic. Blockchain-based solutions, like TradeLens, create trusted sources of data and documents, essential to solving pandemic-created disruptions.”
Guan said supply chain disruption can cause “spill over effect on a global scale”.
That has been proven many times since the middle of 2020, with not only the pandemic causing congestion at ports but also the obstruction of Suez Canal in March 2021 and the recent COVID-19 outbreak at the Port of Yantian, a major Chinese export gateway.
The need for the supply chain to be more resilient has prompted industry experts to call upon stakeholders to embrace digital technologies that enable greater situational awareness and digitisation of processes.
Guan said the TradeLens product provides visibility to enable customers to better anticipate changes to transport plans and allows for proactive management of processes.
“Electronic document transfer and e-B/L processes, underpinned by blockchain, are much needed when people are physically constrained from interacting with paper documents,” Guan explained.