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New UNCTAD online course to ease trade with blockchain technology

05 February 2024

Blockchain holds immense potential to make trade cheaper and more secure and efficient. But more policy and technical support is needed to help countries harness the technology.

© Shutterstock/Gumbariya | Blockchains can improve supply chain transparency and traceability as well as reduce administrative costs.

UNCTAD and partners are launching a new e-learning course on 6 February to equip policymakers with a practical methodology to tap blockchains to make trade faster, less costly and more secure.

On average, it takes 15 government agencies, some 25 workers and 35 documents to clear a typical shipment.

As a shared ledger, blockchain can help streamline customs clearance by improving coordination and real-time information sharing. It allows trade documents to be validated and made available to all relevant stakeholders while preserving the privacy of traders through encryption.

Its immutability – meaning that once a blockchain is created, it cannot be changed – helps ensure data reliability and authenticity, as well as the traceability of goods.

“Blockchain provides a trustworthy service in a not necessarily trustworthy digital environment,” says Jan Hoffmann, head of trade logistics at UNCTAD.

Knowledge gaps and legal barriers

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the technology, which is already transforming trade operations such as cross-border clearance, payment processing, supply chain management, rules of origin and risk management.

But to adopt it at scale, many economies still face significant knowledge gaps and legal barriers.

“Governments and international organizations can play a key role in building the necessary ecosystem to engage all stakeholders, address risks and ensure that blockchain can effectively support sustainable and inclusive development,” Mr. Hoffmann says.

Course objectives

The e-learning course is part of a project implemented by UNCTAD and the UN’s five regional economic commissions.

Building on a recent UNCTAD report, the course aims to:

  • Provide an overview of the evolution of blockchain technology and outline success stories of leveraging blockchain for trade facilitation and supply chains efficiency.
  • Shed light on the necessary policy environment, regulatory frameworks, compliance and governance preconditions to accelerate blockchain adoption.
  • Develop model guidance for stakeholder coordination and process implementation.
  • Establish the basis for use cases such as certification, credentials, and distributed data management to facilitate international trade.