Singapore is set to become the latest trade hub to push for electronic bills of lading (eBL) acceptance, with a proof-of-concept for its trade document digitisation initiative due this year.

Speaking at a committee of supply debate in parliament this week, minister for communications and information, S Iswaran, announced that Singapore’s TradeTrust project aims to tackle the inefficiency of manual, cross-border trade processes by developing a set of standards to help businesses securely exchange digital trade documents.

TradeTrust will become a blockchain-powered infrastructure to facilitate the interoperability of trade documents exchanged between different digital ecosystems.

eBL adoption is being pursued by several governments and technology developers in order to eradicate issues relating to archaic paper documentation for traded goods, including fraud, human error, mishandling, bribery and slow delivery times.

TradeTrust was first revealed in 2018 as a cross-department initiative led by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), under Iswaran, and other government agencies, along with private sector partners.

A spokesperson for IMDA tells GTR that the agency is aiming to complete the development of TradeTrust over the next few years and that the process will begin with a request for information (RFI) exercise where the relevant business partners will be invited to submit proposals on the technical implementation of the TradeTrust infrastructure.

The RFI will then help IMDA develop the technical specification needed to work with a suitable vendor to develop and operationalise the TradeTrust Digital Infrastructure.

In his speech, Iswaran also confirmed that IMDA will almost double its research budget for research into digital services, with a further US$300mn cash injection.

The announcement of a forthcoming proof-of-concept comes as part of a raft of technology-focused projects that Singapore’s IMDA is sponsoring, including several to help domestic SMEs develop their digital footprint.

The technology overhaul will require a review of the country’s Electronic Transactions Act, which must be updated to reflect new business models, technologies and national projects. IMDA will also review the Personal Data Protection Act, which provides a framework for safeguarding consumer interests while enabling the use of data.

In 2018, Singapore launched a one-stop trade platform to help digitise trade processing for traders, logistics companies, carriers and financiers. The Networked Trade Platform is designed to bring the entire ecosystem to a single online location, where they can trade and transact with each other.

Earlier in the year, the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce revealed plans to move electronic certificates of origin (eCOs) onto a blockchain-based platform in a bid to improve transparency and security.

Singapore’s focus on digitising trade documents follows a slew of other countries and technology developers investing in the technology and legal framework to allow eBLs to become mainstream.

In February, tech giant IBM partnered with Pacific International Lines (PIL), one of Southeast Asia’s largest shipping firms, to complete a real-time pilot of its electronic bill of lading (eBL) add-on for the IBM Blockchain Platform.

Elsewhere, platforms like Bolero and essDocs have long been working on industry-approved eBL applications that give carriers and logistics providers the ability to create, send and manage bills of lading digitally. Bolero recently partnered with container carrier Evergreen Line to produce a paperless bill of lading and dispatch documentation via its ShipmentLink portal. It is also looking at how to redesign its eBL service using blockchain technology, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding with fintech consortium R3 in October.