Wheels of cheese at a storehouse in Modena, Italy, February 2016. 
Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS

The specters of protectionism, geopolitical competition, and weakening international integration have recently made the underpinnings of global commerce seem insecure. Small wonder, then, that new ways of plugging into the international economy are flourishing.

Among these innovations is blockchain, a so-called distributed-ledger technology that allows transactions to be validated without the use of a centralized database. Blockchain has drawn the most attention for its role as a platform for cryptocurrencies: since its debut in 2008, it has helped spawn more than 800 of them, including Bitcoin. But cryptocurrencies serve mostly as fodder for speculative investments, toys for technologists, and instruments for money laundering. Blockchain’s deeper impact on global commerce will come from its use by businesses and financial institutions. Some are already employing it to digitize contracts, eliminate intermediaries in financial transactions, and make ledgers easier to audit. Because blockchain provides a distributed digital record that does not require trust or

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