Taking Australian blockchain to Shanghai

AgriDigital’s Blockchain Project Lead, Bridie Ohlsson, joined the Austrade hosted Australian Blockchain Mission to Shanghai in September 2018. A delegation of Australia’s leading blockchain companies met with Chinese government officials, corporates and investors over the week.

Off on a mission

I’m in Shanghai for one week, looking for an insight into the 7,557 technology incubators, 287,615 startups and the massive grey area that is working in China.

Guided by the wonderful Austrade team our mission is to:

  1. Meet with Chinese government officials and leading tech companies like Ant Financial and Dianrong,
  2. Attend the Wanxiang blockchain conference and introduce Australia’s leading blockchain projects,
  3. Present AgriDigital to potential project partners and investors including some of China’s leading agriculture businesses.

Looking across the Shanghai skyline, the names of companies beaming from the top of (and at night, the entire face of) countless skyscrapers are almost all unknown to me. I can’t help but feel I’ve landed in a different world entirely.

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A country living inside a smart phone

(And it’s definitely an Android)

Technology is ubiquitous, but most apps in China are set up for residents and domestic tourists only.

Taxis are almost impossible to hail off the street as they all run off an application that requires users to have a Chinese bank account. Uber is unavailable and ride-hailing app, Didi, is only accessible to those with a Chinese iTunes account. Entire businesses, contracts, payments and partnerships run through WeChat. Most of the time, Google doesn’t work and the available search engines operate almost entirely in Chinese.

Learn some Mandarin and if you plan on staying a while, definitely find a trusted local contact and get a bank account. A Chinese lawyer will help navigate the grey area, and the Austrade Shanghai office will be an invaluable point of call.

On the flight over, I speak to my neighbour, a 65 year old Shanghai local, through translator apps; in the drive to the hotel the taxi driver uses voice to text typing tool to hold, what I can only guess, are three separate conversations as we crawl into Shanghai through Friday night traffic.

There’s scale, and there’s China scale

The scale in China is difficult to fathom.

At AgriDigital we are proud that 90% of our 1850 active users are farmers, and we have plans to support many more.

But in China, there are 460 million farmers.

No wonder that Chinese companies don’t need to market to international customers. I am told in the first half of 2018, Chinese businesses raised only $300 billion USD in funding for projects, which is an only as is was down from $700 billion USD over the same period in last year.

In China mass scale adoption of technology is largely driven by government, who maintain exceptionally close relationships with China’s leading tech giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT).

BAT have a combined net worth of over US$1 trillion. The speed with which these giants can pick up and deploy new technology is impressive. Unlike Australia, China has a first to file trademark and patent system, so ensuring you are protected before entering the market is critical. There are over 15 million trade mark registrations in China.

Because of this scale, it’s vital to have a China story. There’s a strong belief that no experience in another jurisdiction truly equates to success in China.

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Blockchain, in it for the technology. Seriously.

Unlike those who have associated blockchain technology with just cryptocurrency, China is heavily invested in the future of blockchain but maintains a strict anti-cryptocurrency position.

In Nanjing City, $1.5 billion USD has been invested by government into a Blockchain Investment Fund, and President Xi Jinping himself endorsed blockchain as a breakthrough technology earlier this year.

More recently, restrictions on cryptocurrencies have been tightened with officials shutting down any conference discussing crypto-investment (such as ICOs) and countless stories of hotel rooms and WeChat group messages being actively monitored. Still, the largest three Chinese funds have set out $1 billion for investment in blockchain projects.

The technical maturity of the blockchain ecosystem in China is impressive, and the Wanxiang conference was full of talented people sharing impressive projects.

Best chance encounter of the week award goes to a fellow Aussie delegate who ran into Vitalik Buterin. Of all places, at the hotel gym.

Food safety, strawberries and cream.

With weekly food safety scandals from dairy to ‘gutter oil’, including 500,000 food safety violations in 9 months during 2016, the demand for better connected and traceable supply chains is everywhere in China. But it’s not just a problem there. As chance has it, I was in Shanghai during the Australian strawberry incident.

For China, technology is the solution and blockchain is clearly as the top of the list.

As a high value, premium exporter into the Chinese market, Australian food and agri-businesses are playing a critical part in creating the digital supply chains to track the provenance of products into China. Under Alibaba’s Food Trust Framework, vitamins and dairy are being targeted as some of the first products to have end-to-end supply chain traceability.

In China, leading agribusinesses are looking at blockchain as a commercial solution not just for traceability but to provide efficiencies and better trade solutions. I had the pleasure of meeting a few of them to provide a demo of our blockchain protocol. The pressure on these Chinese businesses from a growing consumer base is enormous, and the demand for better technology solutions from their customers is not just clear, it is critical.

Thank you to Austrade for hosting such a fantastic trip, and to the other Aussie companies who came along for the ride. AgriDigital’s blockchain solution supports our customers to trace, trade and finance global agri-supply chains. Please contact hello@agridigital.io for more information.