The Indian subsidiary of major global banking and financial services firm HSBC and India’s holding giant Reliance Industries (RIL) have completed a blockchain-enabled trade finance transaction, Indian business newspaper The Hindu Business Line reports Sunday, Nov. 4.

The blockchain-powered letter of credit (LoC) transaction, reportedly the first of its kind in India, involved export by RIL to U.S. client Tricon Energy, which sufficiently reduced both the time and costs of processing documentation. The new system represents a significant improvement in global export market interactions by bringing all parties together on one platform, The Hindu Business Line notes.

According to the article, the transaction solution has been implemented through the integration of blockchain with an electronic bill of lading (eBL) platform dubbed Bolero. First introduced in November 2016, the Bolero eBL system allows for the issuance and management of electronic bills of lading, as well as enables digital transfers of goods titles from sellers to buyers in a trade.

RIL’s joint chief financial officer Srikanth Venkatachari commented that the new blockchain deployment has demonstrated a significant potential to reduce timelines involved in managing export documentation from the “extant seven-ten days to less than a day.”

Earlier this week, a group of major global banks, including U.K.-based HSBC, BNP Paribas, and Standard Chartered, launched a blockchain platform to address the financing of international trade. The platform, dubbed eTrade Connect, is reportedly able to reduce the time needed to approve trade loan applications from 36 to four hours.

In May of this year, international daily newspaper Financial Times reported on HSBC completing the first global trade finance transaction powered by blockchain. The transaction involved a LoC for U.S. food and agricultural conglomerate Cargill.

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Two major Brazilian banks have reopened the banking accounts of one of the local crypto exchanges experiencing banking issues recently, local crypto outlet Portal do Bitcoin reports Wednesday, Oct. 31.

The preliminary decision to reopen accounts in major banks Banco do Brasil and Santander Brasil for local crypto exchange Bitcoin Max was granted by the Federal District Court. The  judge ruled that the mentioned banks failed to notify the exchange of account closure, which was treated as “abusive conduct” violating consumer protection rules. The court then ordered to unlock the accounts within five days.

In case of non-compliance with the injunction, Santander Brasil would have to pay up to 5,000 Brazilian reals (about $1,300), and Banco do Brasil — up to 20,000 Brazilian reals (about $5,400). Leonardo Ranna, a lawyer for the crypto exchange, told local media that the accounts of Bitcoin Max and its partners were subsequently quickly reopened.

However, Portal do Bitcoin stresses that the legal battle is not over as the Federal District Court’s decision is only seen as a “preliminary” kind of injunction. Moreover, Banco do Brasil has also blocked the additional 120,000 Brazilian reals ($32,400) of Bitcoin Max’s funds. The court ordered to return them in 24 hours, according to the report.

As Cointelegraph reported in September,  Brazil’s antitrust regulator, the Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE), started inspecting six major national banks, including Banco do Brasil and Santander Brasil, for alleged monopolistic practices in the crypto space. The watchdog tried to reveal whether Brazilian banks deliberately closed the accounts of local crypto exchanges following several complaints.

A month later, in October, CADE sent a questionnaire to ten Brazilian crypto exchanges whose banks accounts have previously been closed, with deadline to respond set for mid-October. The companies were requested to explain how their business functioned in Brazil and clarify if they were unable to open a bank account, or if the account was closed by some financial institution.

 

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The Dubai Department of Finance (DoF) has partnered with the Smart Dubai Office (SDO) to launch a blockchain-powered payment system. The news was reported on by a local news site Zawya, September 23.

The new platform, called “Payment Reconciliation and Settlement,” was officially launched Sunday, September 23. It is reportedly geared towards governmententities, such as the Dubai Police, Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), Dubai Health Authority (DHA), and others.

According to Zawya, the Dubai DoF and SDO intend for the system to provide for a more accurate and transparent governance process, as well as to enable real-time payments within and between government structures.

As Zawya reports, the currently existing process for transactions in Dubai government is time-consuming, requiring up to 45 days to complete any given operation.

The new system is reportedly already in use by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), with a total number of test transactions amounting to more than five million.

Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, Director General at the SDO, commented that blockchain is “one of the most promising of [emerging] technologies.”

In 2017, the SDO group was granted the top honors at the Smart Cities Expo and World Congress in Barcelona, acquiring the City Project Award from among 308 other teams for their Dubai blockchain Strategy.

The Smart City project was reportedly introduced by Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of the Dubai Emirate Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid in 2013. Supported by the government, private sector, and institutional partners, the organization’s goal is to provide a smart ecosystem for cooperation between government entities and residents and visitors.

Smart Dubai is not the only government-backed initiative that intends to employ major emerging technologies such as blockchain in the country.

In April of this year, the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister launched the “UAE Blockchain Strategy 2021” initiative, with a goal to achieve the position of a global leader in adopting the technology.

In July, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) announced its partnership with Smart Dubai to develop a “Court of the Blockchain.” The organizations aim to explore the potential of the technology in addressing the shortcomings of the UAE’s legal system, for example by introducing blockchain-based verification of court judgements.

 

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A group of major global banks, trading firms, and a leading energy company have launched a joint venture that will oversee a new blockchain-based platform for financing the trading of commodities, Reuters reports September 19.

The Swiss-based venture, dubbed komgo SA, has been established by a host of international financing, trading, and production institutions that include ABN AMRO, BNP Paribas, Citi, Credit Agricole Group, Gunvor, ING, Koch Supply & Trading, Macquarie, Mercuria, MUFG Bank, Natixis, Rabobank, Shell, SGS, and Societe Generale.

The venture will digitalize trade and commodities finance processes through a blockchain-based open platform, and has been developed in partnership with the Ethereum-focused blockchain infrastructure and solutions group ConsenSys.

The core development team supporting komgo is responsible for two reportedly successful blockchain based proofs-of-concept (PoC) that have been tested for energy and soft commodities trading, dubbed “Easy Trading Connect 1” and “Easy Trading Connect 2.”

According to a press release also published today from Dutch bank ABN AMRO:

“The first [komgo product] will standardize and facilitate the know-your-customer [KYC] process. The second […] will be a digital letter of credit, allowing commodity houses or other platforms to submit digital trade data and documents to the komgo customer banks of their choice.”

Reuters reports that komgo, which is set to go live later this year, will initially be used for the energy industry, specifically for trades that involve crude cargoes in the North Sea.

As of next year, the platform reportedly aims to widen to agriculture and metals. Vakt, a blockchain-powered oil trading platform that shares many of its shareholders with komgo, is said to be working alongside the new venture.

In April, a subsidiary of one of China’s four major state-owned oil companies successfully completed a shipment of gasoline from China to Singapore that used blockchain tech end-to-end across “all the key participants in the commodity trading process.”

 

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While United States regulators are still trying to figure out how to think about cryptocurrencies, Thailand’s government is already mapping out its own central bank digital currency.

This is just one of numerous examples how Thailand has emerged as one the most interesting cryptocurrency and blockchain countries in Southeast Asia in 2018.

Since the start of the year, the Thai government has become increasingly outspoken and welcoming of cryptocurrency projects and exchanges. In just a few months, Thai regulators have made notable progress, from setting up cryptocurrency company licenses to permitting exchanges and ICOs. More importantly, the country has attracted foreign companies by providing clear and explicit guidelines for foreign blockchain companies to operate. It’s a pattern that we are seeing across Southeast Asia, and one that blockchain and cryptocurrency startup founders should take note as they think about global expansion.

Southeast Asia regulators are keen to understand cryptocurrency and blockchain 

To understand how a small country like Thailand can move so quickly in the blockchain space, it’s crucial to understand the strategy of regulators and local companies. Unlike their U.S. peers, most Asian blockchain companies and exchanges work with local regulators right from the beginning, even as they are first building their products and growing their communities. These teams use formal and informal relationships to get buy-in from their respective local governments in order to bolster their credibility. This pattern is particularly true for Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand.

However, it isn’t just startups that are trying to curry ties with government officials – these relationships work in both directions. Take for example Pundi X, which is a technology company building out a blockchain-based point of sale solution in Southeast Asia and globally. Its CEO, Zac Cheah, is Malaysian and local to the Southeast Asia region, and discussed with me how regulators are engaging with the startup community:

I think government is morphing and changing and many governments that we know are not you know exactly the ones that we say that are lagging behind. They, in fact, have like people, young or not so young people, that are very knowledgeable about what is happening right now. So in fact sometimes when we go to core blockchain meetups, we actually see some very core people from the regulatory side […] they know that this will change the landscape a lot so I think they are trying to think through the, if I may, the ‘tokenomics’ of how they want to get involved.”

No longer Thaied up in regulation

These types of regulatory engagements are encouraging signs for the region and particularly for Thailand, where regulators have been working quickly to provide a legal path for blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies.

In June, Thailand’s government legalized seven cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin cash, Ethereum classic, Litecoin, Ripple, and Stellar). It has also permitted a limited number of cryptocurrency exchanges and broker-dealers to apply for operating licenses. Then in July, the Thailand SEC permitted additional digital token issuers to file for applications. In the same month, the securities regulator categorized ICOs into three types: investment tokens, utility tokens, and cryptocurrency. As should be clear from this timeline, the speed at which these regulators execute decisions has surpassed that of most countries in the West as well as the rest of Asia.

Part of that speed is that in Thailand, regulators have shown an openness to knowledge exchange. For example, recently the Thailand SEC held a dialogue with Vitalik Buterin and the OmiseGo team on the status of exchanges and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). For Thailand, having a local, knowledgeable, and well-established team such as Omise is very helpful to building a clear regulatory environment for companies.

Photo by Juan Antonio Segal used under Creative Commons.

In fact, we are seeing foreign companies already starting to gravitate towards Thailand’s crypto opportunity, with both Western and Eastern businesses seeking opportunities in the country. In early July, Bithumb, the second largest cryptocurrency exchange in Korea, announced that it plans to open in Thailand after receiving the required regulatory approval from the local government. IBM and Krungsri, one of Thailand’s largest financial institutions with 8.6mn credit cards, sales finance, and personal loan accounts, announced a five-year $140 million engagement to build out digital banking, including blockchain technology. The crypto momentum will likely continue in Thailand, and more announcements and developments should come in the second half of the year.

Not only has it become open to private cryptocurrency companies, but the Thailand government is also testing its own blockchain technologies. For example, it has allowed the Thai Bond Market Association to create a “BondCoin,” a custom token on a private blockchain between permissioned participants including issuers and investors alongside regulators and registered firms.

Then just last week, Bank of Thailand (BOT) outlined a preliminary roadmap for ‘Project Inthanon,’ its central bank digital currency (CBDC) initiative. This is following similar projects initiated by other central banks, including the Bank of Canada, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the Monetary Authority of Singapore. BoT plans to work with eight participating banks to start building a prototype. The announcement of Project Inthanon says: “The BOT and the participating banks will collaboratively design and develop a proof-of-concept prototype for wholesale funds transfer by issuing wholesale Central Bank Digital Currency (Wholesale CBDC).”

Phase 1 of Project Inthanon will involve development and testing of key payment features such as a liquidity-saving mechanism and risk management. It is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2019, and its outcome will be very telling of Thailand’s progress in Southeast Asia.

Building strong local Thais?

For new companies going into the region, it may become increasingly more difficult to enter. Traditionally, a large part of doing business successfully in many parts of Asia requires forming the right connections and business relationships. As the blockchain space evolves, regulators are establishing more stringent requirements and higher standards to accept additional tokens and exchanges into the country. They’ll likely be influenced in their decisions by existing teams that they already have a relationship with. That dynamic is something cryptocurrency companies should think about as they build out their communities in Asia, as the most established countries may not necessarily provide the most opportunities.

One positive though is that we are still in the relatively early stage of adoption in Southeast Asia, and every country in the blockchain adoption phase is at different stages. A healthy competition between Southeast Asian nations is still brewing, which may benefit newcomers. That said, the strategies used to enter one of these markets will almost certainly change and mature compared to when these opportunities were very green.

In the long run, it’s very possible for many cryptocurrency and blockchain companies to develop a codependency with their respective local government. This doesn’t just apply to Thailand and Asia but to the rest of world too. Each region’s regulators will want to further advance their own interest and form allies with local token companies. So for a project that is thinking globally, forming too close of a relationship with a small set of regulators may pull the company in directions that it otherwise would not want to.

Ultimately, for a cryptocurrency company going into any foreign markets, it is important for one’s team to have a multi-country strategy to avoid developing biases and become overly influenced by one local government. However, to succeed locally, the teams on the ground will also have to be very deeply knowledgeable and experienced in understanding the business culture and regulatory environment there.

As Thailand proves, the ground is changing rapidly on which countries are most open for blockchain and cryptocurrency business, and adapting to these changing market dynamics is critical to the success of startups and companies in the space.

 

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