The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has formalised the Digital Trade Standards Initiative (DSI) as an independent entity with seed funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the government of Singapore, as part of efforts to develop standards and protocols enabling the next digital era in trade.

The DSI aims to develop open trade standards to facilitate interoperability among the variety of blockchain-based networks and technology platforms that have entered the trade space over the past two years. “Universal standards will connect existing digital islands and enable market forces to improve customer experience,” says John Denton, the ICC’s secretary general. “As a leading and neutral voice in the industry, it made sense to bring this project under the umbrella of ICC. This will allow the ICC DSI to lead and coordinate efforts in developing standards and protocols to digitise trade.”

The ICC DSI will be run as an independent entity out of the recently established ICC Centre for Future Trade. Set up by ICC and blockchain development company Perlin with the support of Enterprise Singapore, the latest developments out of the centre include the ICC TradeFlow, a blockchain platform designed to streamline trade processes for business.

The ICC’s focus on Singapore for its digital trade initiatives puts the city-state firmly ahead of competitor Hong Kong in what has become something of a trade digitisation arms race between the two Asian financial hubs. Officials there have applauded the move. “We have seen the tremendous impact of technology in growing businesses and facilitating international trade,” says Gina Lim, director of financing ecosystem development at Enterprise Singapore. “The ICC DSI will promote greater adoption of technology within the trade ecosystem and facilitate greater inclusiveness for small businesses. We are excited for the establishment of the ICC DSI office in Singapore and look forward to working with our global partners across geographies and sectors.”

The DSI started life, in part, as the Universal Trade Network (UTN). First reported by GTR in November 2018, the original project was initiated by blockchain firms TradeIX and R3 together with banks involved in the blockchain project known as Marco Polo. Its initial focus was on connectivity between blockchain networks developed on Corda, with a longer-term view of becoming technology-agnostic in order to create a network-of-networks, allowing for interoperability with networks run on rival blockchain frameworks (such as Hyperledger Fabric), as well as non-blockchain networks.

As the initiative grew in size and scope, the participants handed over the reins to the ICC, as a neutral, independent governing body, as GTR revealed in September last year. The ICC has since built on that groundwork, as well as work done by other initiatives, in order to develop the DSI as a new initiative.

Now, with the undisclosed funding amount provided by the ADB and Singapore government, the initiative will be established in an “operational way”, says Olivier Paul, director of finance for development at the ICC. Speaking to GTR, he says that corporate and institutional sponsorship as well as membership will complement the seed funding “as soon as possible”.

ICC now plans to bring in a full-time management team, along with a steering committee to provide guidance and set priorities for the project’s development. A recruitment process is underway to appoint a global head for the DSI, says Paul. “Once hired, we can anticipate that one of the global head’s priorities will be to establish the exact current situation of the various initiatives and to start working on the onboarding of new partners,” he says, adding: “DSI is not only an initiative for banks, but rather for the entire trade industry at large. The ICC DSI initiative will be open for all organisations supporting the core mandate.

“Of course, we can rely on the long history of cooperation built over the past decades with major trade banks to be confident in their appetite to join the initiative. However, the objective is also to make sure that all parties involved in trade – notably all vectors – can be part of it. This includes corporates, logistics companies, transportation entities, insurance companies and law firms.”