Digital verification and verifiable documents show promise as a way to disrupt persistent paper-based evidence required by authorities.

A blockchain trial in the region to prove trade documents can be issued and verified digitally across two independent systems to reduce cross-border transaction costs, has been concluded.

The trial was initiated as part of the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement to make cross-border trade simpler between the two countries.

The trial has successfully tested the interoperability of two digital verification systems: the Australian Border Force (ABF)’s Intergovernmental Ledger (IGL) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA)’s TradeTrust reference implementation. Other participants included Singapore Customs, along with industry participants: the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Industry Group, ANZ Bank, DBS Bank, Standard Chartered and Rio Tinto.

Australia has demonstrated its capability of issuing high-integrity digital trade documents that can be instantly authenticated, provenance-traced, and digitally processed. QR-codes embedded with unique proofs are inserted into digital Certificates of Origin (COO), enabling immediate verification for authenticity and integrity of the document when scanned or machine-read.

A key success of the trial is the acceptance of verifiable COOs by a regulatory authority, Singapore Customs. Trial participants from industry noted the benefits of improved efficiency through time and cost savings by using verifiable COOs.

Goal of the IGL platform

ABF Commissioner Michael Outram said he was pleased with the positive results which will contribute to improving cross-border processes for Australian trading community. “ABF is proud to pioneer cutting-edge digital verification projects in Australia. We understand this collaboration is among the first to involve multiple government agencies from two countries to achieve cross-border document interoperability. Digital verification and verifiable documents show promise as a ‘circuit-breaker’ to disrupt persistent paper-based evidence required by authorities.”

The goal of the IGL platform is to progressively remove the need for paper documents and reduce cross-border transaction costs for Australian business, consistent with commitments under the Simplified Trade System reform agenda. With blockchain-based, decentralized approach, transactions can become more cost effective and offers scalability without the need for expensive data exchange infrastructure, lowering barriers to the adoption of paperless cross-border trade.

Both IGL and the TradeTrust reference implementation use the TradeTrust framework as the key underlying technology to allow interoperability, so the document can be verified by both systems.

TradeTrust’s approach to verification provides flexibility to allow documents to be verified not only in digital format, but also when they are converted into paper documents at any point of the transaction.

Said IMDA’s Chief Executive Lew Chuen Hong: “IMDA spearheads the development of digital utilities as baseline infrastructure for the digital economy. As one such utility, TradeTrust helps verify documents for more efficient cross-border trade. This successful trial demonstrates TradeTrust’s value as a framework to connect governments and businesses for more effective trade flow.”

COOs are usually issued on paper and businesses regularly wait days to receive the hard-copy document via courier before dispatching to multiple parties, including customs agencies, brokers, and banks. Paper trade documents are generally required by authorities to prove authenticity and integrity.  

Singapore Customs’ Director-General Ho Chee Pong said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trade digitalization, and demonstrated the importance of cross-border paperless trade. (We) appreciate the close collaboration with Australia in this aspect, and looks forward to further collaboration in promoting paperless trade.”