Hong Kong-based blockchain consortium Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN) has announced it is looking to deploy its Cargo Release solution across Europe, having kickstarted an initial pilot in the Netherlands.

GSBN began trialling the blockchain-enabled application in the port of Rotterdam this month, following the product’s initial rollout across China and other Southeast Asian countries last year.

The pilot in Europe, the consortium’s first on the continent, will run for a few months and involves various partner institutions, including container terminal operator Hutchison Ports ECT Rotterdam, Cosco Shipping Lines, freight forwarder OOCL Logistics, as well as global trading company SUMEC.

Cargo Release seeks to connect all parties at the port of import, including shipping lines, consignees, their agents and terminals, offering them a paperless solution that GSBN says can cut the time for cargo to be document-ready from “days to hours”.

GSBN’s CEO Bertrand Chen tells GTR over 10,000 customers have used Cargo Release in Southeast Asia, while one shipping line is using it for more than 60% of its imports into China.

“In Asia, most of value is switching from paper to no paper at all,” Chen tells GTR. “In Europe, I think that transition has happened already – they did that using EDI [electronic data exchange]. The key risk in Europe is more about security, ensuring the cargo is released to the right people.”

He says PIN codes, currently used by anyone picking up a container, are often exchanged via email or other similar means.

“Controlling that [process] is very difficult. It’s not a great system to track who’s supposed to pick up the container. In Rotterdam, they have a port authority and they have a different system to verify information, but the exchanges between shipping line, terminal, freight forwarder and the customer are often not done very rigorously. There’s no authority to say this document is correct, or this release is to the right person.”

“Using GSBN connects all those parties and solves that particular problem,” he says.

Should the pilot prove successful, Chen says the plan is to involve more shipping lines active in Europe and to expand to other European terminals run by Hutchison or PSA International, such as PSA Antwerp.

GSBN has been several years in the making. First revealed by GTR in 2018 as a competitor to the IBM and Maersk-built platform TradeLens, it was officially incorporated in March 2021 by eight global shipping lines and terminal operators – Cosco Shipping Lines, Cosco Shipping Ports, Hapag-Lloyd, Hutchison Ports, OOCL, SPG Qingdao Port, PSA International and Shanghai International Port Group – which GSBN says together account for one in every three containers handled in the world.

Cargo Release is the first product to be rolled out on the platform – which uses technology provides by Oracle, Microsoft, AntChain and Alibaba Cloud – but the GSBN consortium is working to grow its offering.

In August, GSBN and digital trade finance network Contour partnered to streamline shipping and trade documentation processes for importers, exporters, banks and logistics providers.

A month later, GBSN announced it had set up a trade finance advisory group with three major banks as part of plans to link the shipping and finance sectors to facilitate end-to-end trade digitalisation.

The advisory group is made up of Bank of China, DBS and HSBC, and is tasked with “exploring the technical, legal and regulatory frameworks needed to break the siloes between the global supply chain and financial institutions”, according to a statement. The group will also work together to test digital solutions such as the electronic bill of lading  and other supply chain data products in order to improve the financing process for banks.