Digital trade finance network Contour has struck a partnership with TradeLens to connect its letter of credit solution to the blockchain-based supply chain platform’s electronic bill of lading (eBL), thereby streamlining the shipping and trade documentation processes for importers, exporters, banks and logistics providers.

Jointly developed by Danish shipping firm Maersk and technology giant IBM, TradeLens is a supply chain ecosystem that facilitates information exchange for more than 65% of containerised trade. It went live with an early adopter programme in 2018, and has since built up a network of over 300 members including ocean carriers Alianca, CMA CGM, Hamburg-Sud, MSC, Seaboard, Safmarine, Sealand, SPL and Zim as well as numerous terminals, inland depots, customs authorities and intermodal providers.

Using blockchain technology, the TradeLens eBL solution is issued digitally by carriers to a shipper as a structured document. The issuance is recorded, and an identifier of the document is saved to the TradeLens blockchain. The shipper can view the issued eBL in the platform, and when ready, instantly transfer it. When the container shipment is ready to be received, the consignee can surrender back to the carrier for cargo release either digitally or where required revert to paper with carrier support.

Contour, which went live in 2020, delivers decentralised digital trade finance over distributed ledger technology, which allow parties to transact and view information securely.

This collaboration will merge direct access to major ocean carriers with Contour’s established trade finance network, enabling corporates and banks to link their trade finance requirements with the physical shipment and benefit from an interoperable, end-to-end paperless transaction.

Essentially, when using Contour’s digital letter of credit solution, the buyer and seller can now specify the TradeLens eBL as the required proof of shipment and reduce the need to receive, send, and amend paper documents. This, the two companies say, will enhance the overall user experience, reduce complex workflows and further improve turn-around time.

“We are excited to work with Contour on the digitisation and synchronisation of banking and shipping document flows,” says Kim Spalding, CEO of GTD Solution and the TradeLens platform. “Combining our ecosystems will accelerate the use of eBLs and create secure workflows with trusted data from blockchain verified documents.”

Speaking to GTR, Carl Wegner, CEO of Contour, says that the agreement does not involve cross-investment, but is focused on joint customers that want both an eBL through TradeLens and a digital trade finance solution through Contour – especially SMEs who ship via container and not bulk vessel. “In the past, the focus of many eBL platforms were large-value shipments, but we are excited to see access to eBL is being democratised through offerings like TradeLens and Contour. We will look at closer technical integration, such as APIs upon customer feedback on how they would like to use both systems together.”

This is the latest in a series of partnerships within the trade digitisation space, as solution providers seek to solve for the problem of digital islands, which limit the potential of connectivity.

Earlier this year, TradeLens joined forces with fellow eBL provider Bolero to connect their respective networks of banks, corporates and supply chain participants.

Meanwhile, last year, Contour linked up with Hong Kong-based TradeLens competitor Global Shipping Business Network, which counts among its members Cosco Shipping, Cosco Shipping Ports, Hutchison Ports, OOCL, Port of Qingdao, PSA International, and Shanghai International Port Group, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd, with the two sides linking their offerings to create an “end-to-end” digital solution.

It also signed a partnership with metals and mining blockchain platform MineHub, to enable miners’ digital contracts with buyers to flow onto the Contour network via API, where a digital letter of credit can then be created.

“Our collaboration with TradeLens brings us closer to our goal of establishing a truly global and digital trade finance ecosystem,” says Wegner. “With rising complexities in supply chains and markets across the world, digital transformation is crucial to addressing many of these challenges. Through strategic partnerships with leading industry players, we can accelerate this shift towards digitisation and drive the trade finance industry forward.”