AP Moller-Maersk and IBM are scrapping TradeLens, a supply chain ecosystem that facilitates information exchange for more than 65% of containerised trade, in a surprise announcement that marks the demise of yet another digital trade platform.

Launched in 2018, TradeLens had 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.

But Maersk revealed late on Tuesday that the platform “has not reached the level of commercial viability necessary to continue work and meet the financial expectations as an independent business”.

“TradeLens was founded on the bold vision to make a leap in global supply chain digitisation as an open and neutral industry platform. Unfortunately, while we successfully developed a viable platform, the need for full global industry collaboration has not been achieved,” says Rotem Hershko, Maersk’s head of business platforms.

The platform’s downfall appears to have caught the industry off guard. Speaking to GTR on the condition of anonymity, two industry insiders from other companies expressed shock at the news, noting that the involvement of Maersk in the project had given a perception of stability.

TradeLens’ extensive presence at recent events, including this year’s Sibos, had also given onlookers no reason to believe that it was in trouble. Its core offering was the blockchain-based TradeLens eBL solution, which was approved by the International Group of P&I Clubs for use by its members in 2021. Earlier this year, it expanded its focus to trade finance transactions, carrying out its first end-to-end paperless deal with the shipment of agrichemicals from South Korea to Bangladesh by Syngenta.

Speaking to GTR at the time, Daniel Wilson, head of strategy and operations at TradeLens, said that the platform had “growing bank support” and was “actively exploring” partnerships with banks and third-party platforms to create a fully integrated experience for customers, combining digital letter of credit or other instrument issuance through to final payment and release of cargo.

But as has now become customary across the trade digitisation space, progress has not been as fast as its backers would have liked. TradeLens has become another trade digitisation initiative that lost the race to achieve success before its funding dried up.

In recent months, the exuberance of technology-driven transformation in trade has given way to frustration and disappointment, snowballing into what trade digitisation wonks are increasingly referring to as the “fintech winter”.

In June, we.trade, another IBM-backed blockchain platform, was forced to shut down after being unable to secure further investment to continue as a going concern. HSBC called time on Serai, its wholly owned subsidiary that operated as an online B2B platform for SME trade, after the venture failed to make money, and the Marco Polo Network is also said to have shelved its blockchain-based payment commitment.

With an ever-growing roll call of failed projects weighing on the minds of investors, it is unlikely that TradeLens will be the last platform to close its doors as shareholders – often with interests in multiple initiatives – now seek to rationalise their investments.

Maersk says the platform will go offline by end of the first quarter 2023.