Case Study: Digital Transformation of the Global Shipping Industry

Navigating legal issues

Providing key connections to help digital transformation of the global shipping industry

Think enterprise- or industry-wide digital transformation just requires a technology solution? Think again. With the rise in regulation of competition, cybersecurity and data protection and more, companies and industries need sound legal guidance, compliance and other support services as they design and implement digital solutions.

PwC’s work on the Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN) is a good case in point. Our global network of legal practitioners helped create a strategic collaboration with shipping industry leaders and established the ground-breaking GSBN. The case study highlights the importance of having integrated legal, consulting and technology capabilities to help address challenges in an evolving collaborative economy and turn industry disruption into new business opportunities.

containers port
containers shipping

Client: Leading ocean carriers and terminal operators

Industry: Shipping

Our role: Advised on the structure of the Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN) and obtained regulatory clearances from multiple jurisdictions

Powered by: PwC Global Legal Network, with support from PwC Consulting and Technology service practices

Services: Corporate law advice, competition law analysis, contract preparation and technology implementation support services

Countries: Multiple (including Australia, Hong Kong / China, Chile, Poland, South Korea and the Ukraine)

The situation

For several years, the global shipping industry has been trying to leverage blockchain technology on an industry-wide scale to solve some of the biggest problems it faces – backlog of ships, massive congestion, container shortages, and inefficiencies around trade finance - many of which have only been exacerbated during the pandemic. A global trade data utility platform powered by blockchain would enable supply chain participants from around the world to work collaboratively, accelerate the digital transformation of the industry and open up new business opportunities.

There was just one big catch – or rather, many small ones: such a global data platform could not be launched without first clearing all the antitrust and regulatory hurdles in each of the many jurisdictions involved. Increasing competition scrutiny and antitrust regulations from many countries also made the endeavour much more complicated.

PwC was approached for help with resolving legal and regulatory issues as well as finding the right collaborative structure with shipping leaders to smooth the way for industry change. The result: the GSBN – a ground-breaking non-profit joint venture providing a trade global utility platform to leading ocean carriers and terminal operators (COSCO SHIPPING LINES, COSCO SHIPPING Ports, Hapag-Lloyd, Hutchison Ports, OOCL, Port of Qingdao, PSA International and Shanghai International Port Group.)

The situation

How we helped

We drew on our expertise in cross-border and multidisciplinary service capabilities to help the client create the GSBN. We worked closely with the client from structuring through implementation:

Advised on the optimal structure

We advised on the optimal structure that would be achievable from a regulatory perspective.

PwC Consulting in Hong Kong worked with Tiang & Partners, an independent Hong Kong law firm collaborating closely with PwC’s Global Legal Network, to help facilitate a strategic collaboration with leading ocean carriers and terminal operators, set up a framework to meet and discuss structuring issues, and identify a roadmap towards a solution that would minimise the regulatory clearances needed. We helped the clients settle on a joint venture model – a consortium of shipping industry leaders as the founding members.

The GSBN was also established on a not-for-profit basis to ensure neutrality of the platform. The Hong Kong team incorporated the entity and dealt with Hong Kong legal issues.

Navigated complex regulations

We navigated complex antitrust regulations and expedited approvals in multiple jurisdictions.

Once the clients chose the non-profit JV structure for what would become the GSBN, PwC set about working on securing regulatory approvals, particularly those associated with antitrust laws. PwC deployed its global network of legal experts to work with local counsel in particular countries to prepare antitrust filings and collate data to be submitted to the antitrust regulators. We then worked with local counsel and antitrust regulators to get the required antitrust clearance to establish the GSBN.

Our work included advising on competition requirements and coordinating with local counsel to secure antitrust clearances in a number of countries, including Chile, Poland, South Korea, and the Ukraine.

Provided additional integrated support

We provided additional consulting, technology and tax support.

In addition to the global reach of our legal practice, our practitioners were also able to work closely with the firm’s other lines of services to help the client throughout the process. For example, PwC Australia provided technology support during implementation as well as subject matter expertise for shareholder and key commercial agreements. Likewise, the PwC Consulting and Tax teams in Hong Kong provided support throughout the process.

“We are not just lawyers. We know the business environment and industry players and bring market insights to every engagement. We understand how economic and political shifts affect industries and can seamlessly connect with our PwC colleagues in consulting, technology and tax to help you achieve your goals. It’s all about connections. That’s the power of PwC Legal.”

- Frederic Mirza Khanian, Global Legal Leader, PwC

Impact and potential

In the short time since its establishment in 2021, the GSBN has already transformed how shipping works for its members:

Blockchain enabled cargo release reduces processing time from days to hours

GSBN’s cargo release solution eliminates the need for time-consuming physical exchanges of paper documentation, hence reducing processing time. For example, when deployed in Shanghai, it led to a reduction in overall process time from two to three days, to only one to two hours.

In the long term, PwC will continue to provide antitrust and other services to help the GSBN expand its offerings and to fulfill its mission to transform the shipping industry, streamline operations across the entire global supply chain and create value for all parties involved.

construction workers

“Today global supply chain disruptions have captured the Zeitgeist of the post Covid era. GSBN’s mission to simplify global trade for all could not be more timely and more important. We are grateful for the expertise from PwC Consulting and Legal teams to help us set up this important project.”

- Bertrand Chen, CEO, GSBN

Market recognition

The GSBN Project recently won the “Innovation in Enabling Business Growth” category at the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Asia-Pacific Awards 2022. The project was also awarded “M&A Deal of the Year: North Asia” at The Asia Legal Awards 2022 as well as “Deal of the Year” by In-House Community Magazine.


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