A subsidiary of China’s state-owned oil giant Sinopec has completed a fully paperless trade transaction for the first time, according to TradeGo, the digital trade platform that facilitated it.

The deal, for 5,000 tonnes of marine gasoil, is the first time an electronic bill of lading (eBL) has been used for a cross-border sale of refined oil products, Singapore-headquartered TradeGo says.

Making bills of lading digital is a major plank of the drive to digitise centuries-old paper processes in trade and trade finance. Advocates say the oil sector is likely to see some of the most benefits because of the frequency with which cargoes change hands and reliance on letters of indemnity.

The Sinopec transaction was for cargo shipped from Singapore to Sri Lanka, with a sailing time of five to six days.

TradeGo says eBLs are especially useful for transactions with short shipping durations, because traditional trade-based paper processes can take much longer than the voyage itself, leading to discharge delays at the delivery port.

A Singaporean shipowner issued the eBL on TradeGo’s DigiDocs platform, and Sinopec Fuel Oil (Singapore) Pte Ltd sent it to the Sri Lankan importer, along with electronic versions of the certificate of origin, quality certificate and cargo manifest.

The importer, who declined to be identified, used the documents to clear customs and returned the eBL to the shipowner, on the TradeGo platform, after delivery was completed. No financing bank was involved in the deal.

TradeGo says Sinopec Fuel Oil will continue to use its platform for exports of refined products to Sri Lanka. “As collaboration deepens, this scenario can be further expanded along the trade and logistics chains, allowing more participants in the energy and chemical industries to enjoy the convenience brought by digitalisation,” the company says in a statement.

“Additionally, both parties will jointly explore more sustainable digital trade innovation scenarios, providing valuable practical experience and reference cases for the digital transformation of the energy and chemical trade industry, and embracing the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.”

TradeGo was launched in 2021 as a joint venture between shipping firms, energu companies and financiers Macquarie Bank, Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Mitsui.

Last year the company launched digital warehouse receipt financing using eBLs, in partnership with supply chain collaboration platform Huoduiba. It has also signed partnerships with Contour and blockchain platform MineHub.