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Antwerp blockchain pilot pioneers with secure and efficient document workflow

Antwerp, Belgium — The Antwerp Port Authority and the Antwerp blockchain start-up T-Mining have developed a solution to make document flows safer and more efficient.

Documents, such as certificates of origin and phytosanitary certificates, are transferred via blockchain technology and the document flow is automated by means of so-called “Smart Contracts”. Together with Belfruco, Enzafruit, PortApp, 1-Stop and T&G Global, a specific solution was developed for phytosanitary certificates—which guarantee the safety of fruit and vegetables. With this pilot project, the port of Antwerp confirms its pioneering role in the field of innovation and digitization and actively collaborates on new solutions to further secure our food chain while automating the administrative processes.

Various parties are involved in the import of fruit and vegetables and the exchange of the accompanying paper-based phytosanitary certificates1 is done by courier. The food agency in New Zealand is responsible for issuing the phytosanitary certificate. Subsequently, the New Zealand exporter sends this certificate – together with the fruit – to the Belgian importer. The latter transfers the certificate to the forwarding agent, who in turn has to hand over these certificates to the Belgian authorities so that they can inspect and approve the certificate before releasing the cargo of fruit for import in Belgium.

During this pilot project, fruit from New Zealand and destined for the European market is provided with digital phytosanitary certificates that are transferred via blockchain technology. Now, the New Zealand exporter will transfer this digital certificate to the Belgian importer, Enzafruit. It transfers it to Belfruco, freight forwarder within the SEA-invest group – which in turn has to transfer these certificates to the Belgian authorities before releasing the cargo of fruit from the SEA-invest terminal.

How all involved stakeholders will use blockchain to transfer phytosanitary certificates. (T-Mining)

“Today these paper certificates are sent by courier from New Zealand.” explains Nico De Cauwer, Business Architect Port Community Systems of the Antwerp Port Authority. “This costs a lot of time and money. With the pilot project we can transfer these certificates from New Zealand to Belgium much faster and then transfer them to the competent authorities in Antwerp. In this way, everyone immediately has all the latest information and the necessary preparations and checks can be made faster. On top, Blockchain technology guarantees that the authenticity of the certificates has not been tampered with and we can retrieve the origin of the documents in real time. At the moment we are testing this solution on a small scale, with a limited number of parties. We want to test specific blockchain components, but also the new way of working, which is now fully digital. With the results of this pilot we will see which adjustments are needed to consider a possible further rollout.”

“Thanks to blockchain technology, we are able to transfer the original version of documents fully digitally – rather than forwarding a copy of it,” explains Filip Heremans, Chief Product Officer at T-Mining. “Compare it to a text file that you email to a person. Both have their own version of the same document, so the question is who has the original version. With important documents such as certificates that guarantee the origin and safety of our food, this is of course a problem. Blockchain technology allows to transfer documents without duplicating them, so there is only one party that owns the original document at any time. On top, the blockchain guarantees the authenticity of the document—as no one can change or delete anything unnoticed—one of the key characteristics of blockchain. For that, all data is stored decentralized on multiple nodes at various parties such as the Antwerp Port Authority, the Australian & New Zealand Port Community System 1-Stop, Belfruco and T-Mining.

“Another key characteristic of blockchain technology is that all parties have access to exactly the same data, which is crucial for an efficient process. Today this is a known problem, causing long waiting times. Finally, so-called “Smart Contracts” automate and secure the flow of documents between the various parties, so that certain access rules can be enforced and new information is shared with the parties involved without delay and in a secure manner. Because blockchain is a back-end technology, we work together with PortApp, which develops the front-end application so end-users can upload, transfer and approve documents via the blockchain.