Contour has entered into a strategic partnership with TradeGo, a China-focused blockchain commodity trading platform, to connect its digital trade finance network to the Chinese bulk supply chain ecosystem.
Launched in November 2021 as a joint venture between Bank of China, China Construction Bank, China Merchants Energy Shipping, Cosco Shipping Energy Transportation, Macquarie, Mitsui, PetroChina International, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Sinochem Energy and Wanxiang Blockchain, TradeGo provides electronic documentation services for bulk cargo trading in China. These include warehouse receipts and the TradeGo electronic bill of lading (eBL), which was approved by the International Group of Protection and Indemnity Clubs in January this year.
Contour, which went live in 2020, is a bank-owned blockchain consortium focused aimed at digitalising the letter of credit (LC) process.
By linking their systems, the two sides aim to enable corporates and banks to align their trade finance requirements with the shipment in what Contour calls an “interoperable, end-to-end paperless transaction”.
In practice, this would see a TradeGo eBL for bulk commodity trade forwarded to a shipper on Contour for presentation under a digital letter of credit. The process would continue through the banks on Contour and eventually to the buyer, who would surrender the eBL back to the shipping company on TradeGo to collect their cargo.
While TradeGo’s eBL solution is still new, it says it is “quickly gaining adoption across several commodities industries and major trade finance banks in China”.
In May last year, the Singapore-domiciled company signed a co-operation agreement with MineHub, giving users of the metals and mining-focused blockchain platform access to digital trade solutions from Chinese logistics and trade finance service providers.
Speaking to GTR about the progress of the agreement thus far, MineHub CEO Arnoud Star Busmann says: “TradeGo is a clear leader in digitising trade in China and an important partner for us, as we announced last year. We expect that TradeGo will be one of the key cross-border services that enables digital connectivity and trade flow between Chinese corporates and financial institutions with their international business partners. Commercial teaming and product integration with TradeGo are therefore a key part of our roadmap.”
Contour’s deal with TradeGo marks its latest foray into Chinese trade flows. In 2021, it struck a similar partnership with Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN), whose shareholders include Cosco Shipping Lines, Cosco Shipping Ports, Hapag-Lloyd, Hutchison Ports, OOCL, SPG Qingdao Port, PSA International and Shanghai International Port Group. However, Josh Kroeker, Contour’s chief product officer, tells GTR that while the partnership is active, no integrations have been built with GSBN or its own eBL solution at this time, adding that “we each continue to focus on developing and scaling our respective solutions.”
In recent months, achieving scale has become an existential challenge for digital trade platforms. In November last year, AP Moller-Maersk and IBM scrapped GSBN rival TradeLens, citing its failure to attain “the level of commercial viability necessary to continue work and meet the financial expectations as an independent business”. This came on the heels of the closure of we.trade, a bank-backed initiative aimed at digitalising open account trade.
Last week, the Irish High Court appointed provisional liquidators to Marco Polo Network, a consortium built on the same R3 Corda framework as Contour.
Contour, which bought we.trade’s rulebook following its demise, said in September it was “leading the charge” in the consolidation of the blockchain trade finance industry, although CEO Carl Wegner says the company has no plans to engage with Marco Polo’s liquidators. “If they come to us, we’ll take a look at it and review it, but it’s not something we’re looking at specifically,” he tells GTR.
Despite the ever-growing roll call of failed trade digitisation projects, Wegner remains upbeat about Contour’s prospects. “Marco Polo’s failure doesn’t really affect us; we’re just continuing to build our banking network,” he says. “Moving forward, obviously the last six months have not been easy, but this is a function of the general environment. However, our value proposition has support, and people want us to continue to thrive and win.”
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