By John Revill
ZURICH, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Europe's first cross-border trial of central bank digital currency (CBDC) payments has been described as a success by the central banks of Switzerland and France, though they said it would not immediately lead to issuance of CBDCs.
Project Jura, named after the mountains between the two countries, is the latest in a series of CBDC trials conducted by central banks keen to rebut the threat from crypto assets. Just like physical cash, CBDCs essentially give holders a direct claim on the central bank.
The trial, the first time a digital euro and Swiss franc were fully tested, showed it was possible to settle foreign exchange transactions in euro and Swiss franc wholesale CBDCs, as well as issuing, redeeming and transferring tokenised euro-denominated French commercial paper between financial institutions.
Jura focused on bank-to-bank "wholesale" lending markets which unlike retail CBDCs, are limited to financial institutions.
The trial involved the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse and France's Natixis, alongside Swiss bourse operator SIX, fintech R3, and consultancy Accenture.
"Project Jura confirms that a well-designed wholesale CBDC can play a critical role as a safe and neutral settlement asset for international financial transactions," said Benoît Coeuré, head of the Innovation Hub at the BIS.
Tokenised assets and foreign exchange transactions were settled safely and efficiently, the BIS said.
The experiment explored the direct transfer of euro and Swiss franc wholesale CBDCs between French and Swiss commercial banks on a single distributed ledger technology platform operated by a third party.
During the three-day trial in November, 200,000 euros of commercial paper was issued against a wholesale CBDC and transferred between the banks, along with foreign exchange transactions.
The trial was conducted in a near-real setting, used real-value transactions and met current regulatory requirements, the BIS added.
Project Jura also addressed concerns over the issuance of wholesale CBDCs on a third-party platform and giving non-resident financial institutions access to central bank money.
Thanks to a new approach using technology for sub-networks and dual-notary signing, payments would be almost instant with both central banks having to digitally approve transactions before they go through.
However, the central banks said the project was "exploratory" and should not be seen as indicating that France or Switzerland planned to issue wholesale digital currencies.
The SNB currently has no plans to issue a wholesale CBDC or CBDC of any sort, SNB governing board member Andrea Maechler said
"It is an important experiment, the results have been very valuable ... but there are many questions, both of a technological nature and very important policy questions which remain to be better understood," she said.
While CBDCs have the potential to make existing wholesale financial systems faster, cheaper and safer, Europe has so far lagged in the global race for e-currencies. China meanwhile is already testing a digital yuan https://www.reuters.com/business/china-cbank-says-it-will-steadily-push-forward-digital-yuan-pilots-2021-07-16, or e-CNY, in major cities.
"We are not by far at the end of the journey, but it's an important first step, which makes us confident we can remain in this race," said Sylvie Goulard, Deputy Governor of the Bank of France. (Reporting by John Revill; editing by Sujata Rao and David Evans)