‘Regulation Needed to Enhance Trade Impact of Blockchain Technologies’

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The Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Yi Xiaozhun, has said policy action and coordination among key stakeholders are necessary to fully realise the potential of blockchain technology to boost international trade.

He said this in his opening remarks at the Global Trade and Blockchain Forum at the WTO in Geneva, recently.
Xiaozhun, also announced the launch of a new publication on blockchain by the International Chamber of Commerce, Trade Finance Global and the WTO.

According to him, based on a survey of more than 200 actors in the field, the publication discussed the key challenges that companies involved in blockchain trade-related projects were facing and discussed actions that may need to be taken to allow the technology to truly transform international trade.

In addition, he said the publication also provided an estimate of the stages of maturity of the various projects listed. On average, trade-related blockchain initiatives are between the pilot and early stages of production, he added.

The WTO boss, pointed out that the trade landscape was changing fast, driven by technological developments. “A myriad of projects endeavour to make trade more efficient, more transparent and more inclusive. This is good news. But will this be sufficient? Technology is only a tool. If we want this technology to truly transform international trade, we will need more than simply the technology.

“For example, many of the projects that are being developed follow a siloed and disconnected approach, leading to fragmentation between systems and networks. This is what is often called the “digital island problem”.

“Solving this problem will require more than technical solutions. It will require alignment of key stakeholders on issues such as data models and processes. And this can only be done through multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral discussions.

“Likewise, some action may be needed at a policy level to provide a secure and predictable regulatory environment that allows the technology to be deployed on a large scale,” he added.

According to Xiaozhun, Blockchain can accelerate digitalisation of international trade. However, this can only be possible if the legislative framework allows for transactions to be carried out through digital means and if those transactions are recognised as legal and valid — if, for example, laws recognise the validity of e-signatures and e-documents, not only at the national level, but also in a cross-border context, he explained.

“Empowering developing countries and the smallest players to reap the benefits that this technology opens is also a must. No doubt, blockchain opens interesting opportunities. But it also raises legal, regulatory and policy issues that deserve the attention of all stakeholders,” he said.