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Now is the time to digitalise trade finance and restore confidence

Trade finance is the vital force behind the global economy, ensuring the smooth flow of US$25 trillion worth of goods annually. It encompasses various solutions like letters of credit, supply chain financing, and trade loans, providing crucial financing and risk mitigation to facilitate international trade. According to the World Trade Organization, 80% of global trade relies on trade finance.

But many segments of the industry remain entrenched in outdated, paper-driven processes, making them prone to fraud and inefficiency. A single sea shipment can involve 36 original documents and 240 copies across 27 parties. This paperwork is not only laborious but also susceptible to tampering, driving up costs and limiting access to trade financing for businesses, particularly smaller ones.

It's clear that the industry needs an overhaul. And for this, digitalisation is key.

Transitioning to digital systems enhances efficiency, reduces fraud, and fosters greater data sharing and supply chain transparency.

Electronic bills of lading (eBL), for instance, have seen successful implementation, with a fully paperless shipment completed between Singapore and India in 2023. McKinsey estimates that adopting eBLs could unlock US$40 billion in global trade by enhancing efficiency.

Efforts like SGTraDex, a digital data highway for secure trade data sharing, and the Trade Finance Registry (TFR) in Singapore are crucial in combating fraud and ensuring authenticity in trade transactions. These initiatives, driven by industry collaboration, help mitigate risks like duplicate financing and promote more inclusive and sustainable trade financing programs.

Digitalization not only addresses the inefficiencies of paper-based processes but also introduces new capabilities. It enables the use of alternative data for better risk underwriting, expands financing for small businesses, and supports sustainability goals by enhancing supply chain transparency.

As the trade finance industry embraces digital transformation, collaboration among global stakeholders is essential. By developing common, interoperable standards, the industry can build trust and enhance monitoring capabilities, ensuring a robust and efficient trade ecosystem. Initiatives in Singapore, such as TFR and SGTraDex, demonstrate the potential of digital innovation in strengthening the country’s position as a leading trading hub.

Article by Sriram Muthukrishnan for The Business Times. Read more here or in the PDF below.

Now is the time to digitalise trade finance and restore confidence
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