BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY AND FINAL CHALLENGE FOR PAPERLESS FOREIGN TRADE
Mustafa Emre Civelek, Abdurrahman Özalp*
- Istanbul Commerce University, Business Administration Faculty, International Logistics
**Turkish Economy Bank, Trade Finance Advisor,
E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Copyright © 2018 Mustafa Emre Civelek, Abdurrahman Özalp. This is an open access article
distributed under the Eurasian Academy of Sciences License, which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Recent developments in the field of electronic documents have given signs that the use of paper will completely
eliminated after a period of time in all business processes. As a result of the developments in information systems,
the use of electronic documents has become widespread and even become mandatory in some areas. Foreign trade
financing is one of the areas where electronic documents are useful. But use of electronic documents has not yet
become widespread in this area. The continuation of paper-based processes shows that this area needs radical and
comprehensive changes such as infrastructure, legal compliance, innovative products and investments. Foreign
trade requires the creation of common platforms that bring together all parties involved in the transaction so that
paper documents can be completely removed. In this case, legal integration from one country to another is required
in many areas from electronic signature to foreign trade. The emergence of blockchain technology, which has the
ability to provide document integrity without the need for a third party to act as a trusted third party, has created a
new hope for this integration. This study approached to the electronic documents in foreign trade and finance in
the perspective of blockchain technology.
Keywords: Blockchain, Electronic Document, Electronic Signature, Digital Signature
Elektronik belgeler alanındaki son gelişmeler bir süre sonra kâğıt kullanımının tüm iş süreçlerinde tamamen
ortadan kalkacağına dair işaretler vermektedir. Bilgi sistemlerindeki gelişmelerin bir neticesi olarak, elektronik
belgelerin kullanımı yaygınlaşmakta ve hatta bazı alanlarda zorunlu hale gelmektedir. Dış ticaret finansmanı alanı
da elektronik belgelerin faydalı olduğu alanlardan biridir. Fakat elektronik belge kullanımı bu alanda henüz
yaygınlaşamamıştır. Kâğıt tabanlı süreçlerin devam etmesi, bu alanın altyapı, yasal uyum, yenilikçi ürünler ve
yatırımlar gibi radikal ve kapsamlı değişikliklere ihtiyaç duyduğunu göstermektedir. Dış ticaret alanında kâğıt
belgelerin tamamen ortadan kaldırılabilmesi için tüm tarafları bir araya getiren ortak platformlara ihtiyaç vardır.
Bu durumda ise elektronik imzadan dış ticarete kadar pek çok alanda ülkeler arası hukuksal entegrasyona ihtiyaç
duyulmaktadır. Güvenilir bir üçüncü tarafa ihtiyaç duymadan belge bütünlüğünü sağlama yeteneğine sahip olan
blockchain teknolojisinin ortaya çıkması, bu entegrasyon için yeni bir umut yaratmıştır. Bu çalışma, dış ticaret ve
finans alanındaki elektronik belgelere blockchain teknolojisi perspektifinden yaklaşmıştır.
Anahtar Kelimeler: Kayıt Zinciri, Elektronik Belge, Elektronik İmza, Dijital İmza
2 BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY AND FINAL CHALLENGE FOR PAPERLESS FOREIGN
The emergence of blockchain technology, which is regarded as the second Internet revolution,
will bring about the end of many paradigms dominating business life. By means of blockchain
technology document integrity can be provided without the need for an intermediary to act as
the third trusted party. It is expected that smart documents that can authenticate themselves,
have an tamper proof structure and can be issued on a decentralized network will cause radical
changes especially in logistics and foreign trade processes. Additionally, Smart Contracts are
not only documents can authenticate themselves but can execute all transaction which were
programmed thereon. Until today, there was a need for centralized systems that brought the
parties together so that the processes in the paper environment could be transferred to the
electronic environment. This situation was especially difficult to solve as it required integration
between parties in foreign trade. But blockchain technology will be able to pave the way for
significant changes with the potential to remove the intermediaries and has a considerable
potential in terms of ensuring full integration among the parties that has not been achieved so
far. It would be able to get rid of both paper documents and complex business processes. This
important because it will decrease a great deal of cost and waste of time. Blockchain is a peer
to peer technology which allows to create electronic ledger kept at the same time in the
computers which is called the node on the open network, behaving both as client and server.
Each record in this ledger is called a block since it consists of consecutive encrypted records.
There is no need for a central authority to perform this cryptography. Therefore, the invention
of this technology can be called as second internet revolution. Encrypted data structures called
blocks are kept in duplicate copies on computers located on a dispersed network. In this study,
it was tried to approach to the Integrated Single Foreign Trade Document which was proposed
in the former Studies in the blockchain perspective (Civelek & Seçkin, 2017) (Civelek & Sözer,
2003) (Civelek, Uca, & Çemberci, 2015) (Civelek, Çemberci, Uca, Çelebi, & Özalp, 2017).
- Electronic Documents in Foreign Trade
Technological innovations in recent years have resulted in paper based documentation will be
completely abandoned in all business processes, however the paper-based processes still prevail
in foreign trade transactions due to complicated business processes. Electronic documents are
the electronic records produced by a computer program which bear electronic signature
confirmed by a certificate authority. They are consists of the statements, writings, figures and
pictures which are integrated as electronic record. The greatest practical barrier to the
promotion of electronic trade is the standardization of electronic documents (Civelek,
Çemberci, Uca, Çelebi, & Özalp, 2017). The concerted approach in the Asia region enhances
harmonization of systems and procedures, which is necessary for continuous paperless trade
processes (Laryea, 2005).
In order to develop the international trade process, an e-Trade project was implemented by
Korean government in 2003. In addition, to provide a single window for e-Trade, the
uTradeHub was implemented in 2008. However, the evaluation of e-Trade performance was
still controversial. The evaluation of e-Trade performance has both positive and negative
results. Positive results were reported at the initial stage of e-Trade maturity, at the macro level,
such as national, and at industrial levels. According to this view, e-Trade generally decreases
transaction costs and increases productivity. However, recent literature has claimed some
opposite results. Negative results were reported at the later stage of maturity as well as at the
firm level. This means that the use of e-Trade is not continuously active when the benefits
received do not match up with those expected. As result, both the use and net benefits of eTrade show steady levels, but not steady enough to increase a firm’s capability. In addition,
Eurasian Business & Economics Journal 2018,Volume: 15 3
empirical research has shown similar results, such as in the case of Korea, where the number of
SMEs using e-Trade is low and not increasing (Kim & Lee, 2016). To enable increases in
efficiency, a major opportunity is seen in the digitalization of these documents (Leyer &
Hollmann, 2014). In China, internet-based, third-party internet service provider offering
electronic bills of lading facilitate international supply chain processes. But for changing user
attitudes towards electronic bills of lading, there is a need to build trust (Mei & Dinwoodie,
2005). Results regarding attitude of the users was dubious because electronic documents are
conspicuously advantageous. Benefits such as cost reduction, shorter transaction time,
elimination of archive problem and prevention of fraud are undeniable. Employees’ negative
attitude against electronic document system most probably arises from resistance to change and
lack of system interoperability (Civelek, Uca, & Çemberci, 2015). Main participants of a
foreign trade transaction are exporter, importer, carrier, insurance company, customs
administration and bank. For full integration all of these parties need to come together (Civelek
& Sözer, 2003). Electronic documents began to take the place of the paper documents that are
being currently used in foreign trade. The benefits of using e-documents are classified as
reduction of costs, reduction of processing time, elimination of application differences, increase
of usability, reduction of the effect of the human factor, increase of the archive costs, recording
of the economy, prevention of fraud, elimination of the complexity payment methods, reduction
of the number of documents, facilitating the acquisition of commercial information, increase of
trade volume, predictable costs and being no longer problem of language differences. The most
important of these are the elimination of complexity payment methods and the reduction of the
number of documents. Reduction of the number of documents required for completion of a
foreign trade transaction cause simplification. The most important benefits of simplification are
transaction time and cost decrease. Consequently this decrease exerts positive influence on
economic growth (Civelek & Seçkin, 2017). Despite its plenty of benefits, the use of electronic
substitutes of the documents used in foreign trade has major obstacles. Some of these obstacles
are summarized as follows (Civelek, Uca, & Çemberci, 2015): There are great differences
between the business processes conducted with paper documents and the business processes
conducted with paperless documents. A large number of entities from different countries are
involved in the business processes of foreign trade transactions and there are complex business
processes. The international standards for paperless trade have not been fully determined. It is
difficult to establish an international coordination among entities for a project to be invested in
to set up a common system although it is necessary to use such a single common system among
entities to secure integration. Since digital certificates have legal validity only in certain
countries, this prevents reaching the critical number of users that is necessary for a satisfactory
return on investment. Blockchain technology will make a better contribution to these
- Electronic Bill of Lading
The most important of the transport documents used in foreign trade is the bill of lading. The
reason for this is that maritime transport has been done since the early ages and the legal ground
of the bill of lading is based on very old times. “Bill of lading” is a contract of carriage of goods
by sea; it is a formal receipt for the goods shipped and a document of title. Bill of lading is
based on ancient customs and usages of merchants in trade known as Lex Mercatoria. Law
relating to “Bill of lading” i.e. “Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992″, “Hague Visby Rules”,
Similar Law, rules and Agreements are based on paper bill of lading, not electronic bill of
lading. Since the first years of use of electronic documents, efforts are being made to develop
electronic versions of documents used in foreign trade (Pagnoni & Visconti, 2010). These
studies are usually focused on bill of lading because the bill of lading is most important
4 BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY AND FINAL CHALLENGE FOR PAPERLESS FOREIGN
document in international and domestic trade. Bill of lading can be issued by carrier or the agent
of the carrier or master. This document can be issued to the consignee, to the order of a party
or to order and blank endorsed. It is a document indicating receipt of the goods and after on
board statement indicating shipment of the goods. This document is also a contractual document
between the shipper and carrier (Turan, 2010).
The legal validity of electronic documents is based on the electronic signature they bear. The
legal validity of the electronic signature is based on the electronic signature laws of the
countries. The legal basis of Bill of lading is based on Lex Mercatoria, International Law, Rules
and agreements. The lack of an integrated system that brings together all the parties involved
in a foreign trade transaction is one of the obstacles to the widespread adoption of electronic
bill of lading. However, in the future it is inevitable to use an electronic bill of lading on an
integrated system that includes banks and all commercial parties. As a matter of fact, since the
beginning of 2018, work has been accelerated on blockchain-based electronic bill of lading.
Especially, IBM and Maersk have announced a new joint venture in order to develop blockchain
technology solutions for maritime shipping. They try to integrate all supply chain processes
into one platform by using blockchain technology.
- Blockchain Technology and Foreign Trade Transactions
In order for electronic documents to be regarded as documents in a legal sense, they need
electronic signature bearers in a manner accepted by the laws of the country. Electronic
signature is a code attached to a document and shows the authenticity and authorization of the
sender. Electronic documents have serious cost advantage. But it would be extremely optimistic
to expect that the all foreign trade transaction carried into electronic environment. It is also a
problem that there are separate electronic signature laws in every country in the world. Because
there is a problem that the electronic signature created in accordance with the laws of any
country is not recognized by another country. In the light of the above, the introduction of an
international new, simple but secure system may meet this requirement through blockchain and
by its mathematical algorithms and high authentication. Additionally, secure but simple
payment methods that complex payment methods may also be developed on Blockchain. This
must be done in order to spread the use of electronic documents worldwide.
Thus it may be possible to use this methods and documents instead of traditional methods and
documents, besides, a single electronic document of multiple purposed may be developed as
well. That is to say, one document will be used for multiple purposes, i.e.as a Bill of Lading,
İnvoice, Certificate of Origin, Analysis Certificate, Packing List etc. This will be done through
Blockchain and Smart contract. One smart contract as a single document will serve as
multipurpose document. Finally, it may be possible to use one secure and electronic record
instead of issuing a large number of foreign trade documents, it is necessary to use such secure
electronic documents to facilitate the trade. All parties may access to one document and update
with necessary information on their part. This updated document or record may be used in any
payment method such as collection or letter of credit etc. It will lead to the disappearance of
paper based documents. Thanks to the integration of the blockchain and smart contracts for
payment methods and documents, the dominance of any one of the parties will cease to exist.
For example, when goods are processed on e-Documents in smart contract form, which are
withdrawn from customs, transfer between bank accounts will take place without any manual
intervention, if bank accounts are not available, the smart contract e-Document will not allow
the goods to be cleared through the customs. If the buyer causes the non-payable goods to wait
at customs, the problem will be tried to be solved by the terms of the smart contract. If this is
Eurasian Business & Economics Journal 2018,Volume: 15 5
done in an improper manner, the parties will be able to move out of the system. In this trust
based system, the rate of applying to the courts due to fraud in foreign trade transactions will
also decrease. In order for a foreign trade transaction to take place, although each country has
different legislation, an average of 40 different documents is issued by 28 different institutions.
All foreign trade documents can be combined into a single universal foreign trade document
which can be delivered to all institutions at the same time as it is relevant to the nature of the
transaction. In this case, all foreign trade transactions can be carried out with one document.
This kind of document is suitable for the philosophy of blockchain.
The existing foreign trade payment methods and documents have to be simplified and adapted
to the electronic medium so that foreign trade can be done through commercial electronic
documents. It is unnecessary to adapt all the processes followed in paper base environment in
to the electronic environment. It may be hybrid. It would be appropriate to use simpler
transaction standards, even if possible, in a single standard of electronic environment that will
take the place of all the classic payment methods and documents. To overcome these obstacles,
paperless trade investments should be directed to multiple solutions covering all institutions
involved in foreign trade transactions. In this way, the business processes that need to be
mastered for many years in the paper environment will become feasible without expertise. At
the end of this, it is clear that there will be very significant decrease in the operational costs of
the companies. Despite the availability of alternative methods for letter of credits, these
methods do not reach sufficient efficiency because they do not cover all parties in the trade and
they still try to use the electronic equivalents of classical documents (Özkan, Bayram,
Karakaya, & Karakaya, 2014). However, it is unnecessary to produce documents more than
one. Because a document, which is designed as a smart contract on blockchain on the internet
and can be accessed by all commercial parties from all over the world, the functions of such
document can be increased as desired. A single foreign trade document may fulfill the functions
of all documents issued separately. All parties involved in this transaction must be able to
combine on a single system in order to be able to execute a foreign trade transaction through a
single document from the beginning to the end. In the classic paradigm, in order to finalize the
foreign trade transaction using a single electronic document, a single online platform is required
for all parties to become members. But in blockchain technology non-member parties can be
involved in the processes. In the classic paradigm, International co-operation is necessary to
create such a platform. The key to Blockchain technology arises at this point. It is expected that
this technology, which promises a decentralized structure and does not require an intermediary
party, will cause important developments in electronic foreign trade documents. Therefore,
there is no need closed, member-only systems for using blockchain based documents
Smart contracts are self-executing computer codes that automatically carry out functions once
a triggering event has taken place. It is a linear contract that can include multiple parties (buyer,
seller, banks, insurance companies, etc.) and that cannot be altered. For example, if a smart
contract is written between a buyer and a seller to say that once goods have been cleared by
customs, 20% of the funds will be released to the seller, a smart contract would automatically
disburse payment once confirmation is entered into a distributed ledger that the customs office
has cleared the goods. The confirmation of approval by customs is not a triggering event
requiring action by a bank; the payment is automatically made once confirmation has been
entered into the system. With a smart contract, legal stipulations are embedded in the computer
code, which enables the automatic execution of functions defined by a legal contract. It also
6 BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY AND FINAL CHALLENGE FOR PAPERLESS FOREIGN
provides protection against duplicate invoice financing, as the contract will not allow for an
invoice that has already been financed to receive additional financing.
Banks will play an important role as advisors to their clients while developing smart contracts.
The terms of a smart contract have to be worked out between the parties before the smart
contract is developed, and banks will also have to perform compliance checks such as KYC
procedures before embedding the legal contract in code. Today, legal and regulatory issues
surrounding smart contracts are still unclear (many jurisdictions, and many companies
exporting the use of smart contracts are still in the proof of concept stage. As the technology
matures, standardization of smart contract terms is explored, and successful adoption of smart
contracts grows, their use in trade finance could bring even more benefits to all stakeholders
along the supply chain (EBA, 2016).
6.Some Initiatives and Studies on Trade Finance and Blockchain
We.Trade: we.trade Innovation DAC is a joint-venture company owned by 9 European banks,
that develops and licenses the first blockchain trade platform for commercial clients and their
banks available in the market. Through distributed ledger technology and smart contracts, the
platform provides a secure, innovative environment for banks’ commercial clients engaged in
import/export transactions to trade in a user-friendly and efficient way (We.Trade, 2018).
Marco Polo Finance: Marco Polo is one of the fastest growing trade finance business networks.
It is a joint undertaking with trade finance technology firm TradeIX, working with enterprise
software firm R3 and a network of the world’s leading financial institutions.
Launched in 2017, Marco Polo is focusing on a Trade Finance Platform built on an
interoperable business network powered by open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)
and blockchain technology. Marco Polo provides mutual benefits for financial institutions and
their corporate clients and elevates the delivery and management of trade finance solutions.
Marco Polo’s approach is unique — by working with leading financial institutions and
harnessing collective expertise, together we have developed a Trade Finance Platform
leveraging blockchain technology that raises standards for an interoperable business network.
If you want to be part of Marco Polo, to grow your business, become more competitive and
work in collaboration with other financial institutions and corporate clients (MarcoPolo, 2018).
7.Regulatory and Security Issues
With the use crypto-technologies still in its infancy, it is unsurprising that the regulatory
frameworks surrounding their use remain unclear. Combine this with the fact that cryptotechnologies themselves are a technological innovation that have only been possible for a few
years, and there seems to be an uphill battle ahead to craft laws and regulations that will ensure
a stable playing field for industry stakeholders looking to adopt crypto-technologies.
Regulatory compliance is a key issue for banks, and as long as they are unsure of how regulators
view the use of distributed ledgers in finance, they are unlikely to make it a backbone of how
they provide products and services to their customers. While regulators in some countries such
as Australia have signaled their openness to the use of crypto-technologies, what banks and
corporates need are concrete rules to reduce the risk of regulatory action. Banks, fintechs, and
corporates could engage with regulators to help educate them on how crypto-technologies work
and how they can be used to benefit end users while maintaining the security and stability of
payment systems.11 In addition to the need to clarify regulatory aspects that affect all industry
stakeholders, banks will have to look at their own internal risk management policies and
determine whether changes need to be made to accommodate the use crypto-technologies
Eurasian Business & Economics Journal 2018,Volume: 15 7
All around the world, expectations have arisen that blockchain technology will cause radical
changes in multilateral business processes, as document integrity can be obtained and processes
without the need for an intermediary to act as the third trusted party. Particularly in the supply
chain business process, it is expected that the blockchain technology will provide a significant
cost reduction and eliminate time losses. For this reason, many institutions are intensifying their
work on this issue. Especially in the field of foreign trade, studies are mostly focused on
blockchain-based electronic bill of lading and similar documents and payment methods such as
letter of credits etc. However, as mentioned in previous studies, in the case of foreign trade
business processes carrying in electronic environment, there is no need for issuing separate
documents for each transaction and the functions of all documents can be combined a single
document (Civelek, Çemberci, Uca, Çelebi, & Özalp, 2017). In the same way, the multilateral
decentralized structure of blockchain technology allows the integration of the functions of
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