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Keynote Speech by Mr K.Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, at the 5th ICC Asia Conference on International Arbitration

Posted in Speeches

Mr Alexis Mourre, President of the ICC International Court of Arbitration.

 

Mr Alexander G. Fessas, Secretary General, ICC International Court of Arbitration.

 

Ladies and gentlemen.

 

Introduction

 

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me here today. Mr. Fessas spoke about this year being the 100th anniversary for ICC, I think hundred years ago, the context in which ICC was set up was that there can be peace through trade, and greater coming together with a community of nations.

 

But 10 years ago, I think that those propositions would have been taken unarguable, accepted. But we meet here today, once again, with these basic fundamental propositions being questioned, in many places, some of which were the places which championed these ideas in the first place.

 

There are headwinds faced by the global economy and multilateral trade arrangements are under stress, protectionism is gaining some ground. In this context, in the middle of this uncertainty, one can only hope that the lessons that we learned hundred years ago would not be relearned in the same way. And that countries in the world, including the large countries that are responsible for setting the framework, upholding the framework, will understand that we all swim together by being together.

 

In the middle of this uncertainty, countries like Singapore, a very strong proponent of international order, rule of law, open trade and openness, and institutions like ICC, which stand for similar values, must continue to focus on the fundamentals. Business has to continue and that business needs rule of law. It needs dispute resolution, and it means upholding the rules of international trade law. To come here, in Singapore, what do ICC and Singapore have in common? What do we work on? Really the partnership is based on three key pillars. There are several, but I will mention three. Law follows business, ICC has business in this region, this region is doing well. Singapore is a gateway to this region. We’re a leading dispute resolution centre and a trusted partner.

 

Gateway

 

If I take the first point about business in this region, this point has been made repeatedly, the centre of gravity of business is shifting, and shifting to the Asia Pacific. Asia Pacific is likely to have 50% of the world's GDP by 2050. One has to be careful of projecting 20, 30 years, again, it's not a straight line. But looking at the demographic profiles, looking at the current state of the economies, looking at the educational profiles, it's not an unreasonable projection that Asia will continue to be the dynamo for growth.

 

And if you look more specifically, in our smaller region, Southeast Asia, the 10 countries, population of about 650 million, GDP of something like US$3 trillion, and with annual growth rates of 5%. And infrastructure demands running into trillions, expected to be US$150 to US$200 billion a year. It's the third largest economy in Asia if you take it together. And between the fifth and seventh largest in the world, depending on which assessment you take. The huge infrastructure demands will drive the legal growth as well and a lot of businesses therefore choose to base themselves in Singapore to serve this region.

 

Nearly half of Asia Regional HQs across a diverse range of businesses, industries, base themselves here. Nearly 60% of MNCs which are tech-based, have their regional HQs in Singapore. And leading MNCs choose Singapore as a base for their in-house legal teams. They see the business value proposition of Singapore. We are very clear, we are 760 square kilometres. We survive by providing a first-rate business environment for all businesses, the rule of law, your money is safe, you are safe, and you come to do business. No one interrupts you, no one asks you for something. Everything is transparent and open. And stable. It has to provide stability. People know that the laws are transparent, they're consistent, the application is consistent. And the political environment is stable. ICC is based in Singapore and serves the regional market and taps on these opportunities in a booming Asia and Southeast Asia.

 

Dispute Resolution

 

Secondly, dispute resolution. We are now one of the top three arbitral seats in the world after London and Paris, and clearly the number one in Asia Pacific, and ranked within the top four in all regions of the world, except Latin America, and that includes Europe and North America. It has also been, for 9 consecutive years, ICC’s top seat of arbitration in Asia. Parties choose Singapore even when the case has no connection to Singapore, because it's trusted, consistent, reliable. This year 2019 is a year of inflexion for us in the dispute resolution landscape. The Singapore Convention on Mediation is going to be signed in early August. We are also opening the Maxwell Chambers Suites.

 

Talking about the Singapore Convention, it's the UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation. For short, Singapore Convention on Mediation. We took the lead in thinking it through, actively contributed to the development of the Convention at UNCITRAL. It fills a missing piece in the international dispute resolution enforcement framework, because we've got the New York Convention for arbitration and The Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements. So the Singapore Convention on Mediation fits the third piece of that puzzle. We see it as a significant development in international commercial mediation globally. It will enhance cross-border enforceability of mediated settlement agreements, and businesses will benefit with greater certainty and assurance.

 

It goes back to a point that Mr. Fessas made and that's this. The Singapore Government sees itself as a partner for businesses and business institutions, and institutions like ICC. We look at it as what can we do to make sure that this place is good for the people who are coming here. Because it serves our interest, obviously. And our value proposition is being neutral, in being stable, in offering a platform where people can come and deal with financial transactions, deal with their legal disputes, deal with arbitrations, and also have a trusted, reliable judicial system with a philosophy of hands-off. Party autonomy is critical. And as a government, we have made sure that our laws ensure party autonomy. So the courts, the judicial philosophy accepts that. And it's been within a framework. Once in a while when decisions have raised questions of the arbitral community, the Singapore Government has moved to change the law. And we can do that within four months in Singapore. And we have done it. So the framework is set. People know, lawyers know Singapore and business people know Singapore - that they consider to be the trust, reliability and stability. The ability to look forward and put in place a framework that suits business, is a key value proposition that unfortunately, is becoming rarer and rarer in many places.

 

We have also completed the refurbishment of the Maxwell Chambers Suites, tripled its original size to really meet the growing demands for dispute resolution in Asia. And it has smart technology to improve the user experience. For those with some interest in heritage, it is a conserved building full of heritage value. But at the same time, it has the best-of-class hearing facilities. And the proof of that is that already, it has the top international dispute resolution institutions.

 

ICC has its case management office there. Five case management offices, the highest concentration in the world. At least 11 international institutions, and 20 disputes chambers and practices from 11 countries. The official opening is on 8th August. We will be holding a series of events in the Singapore Convention week because that's the week we are inviting ministers from around the world to come and sign the Singapore Convention on Mediation.

 

With that a lot of effort has been put into it because it was only approved by the UN late last year. So within six months we try and get countries to come together to get their national parliaments and chambers to approve and get enough countries to sign the agreement. In these six months, my team at the Ministry of Law has worked very hard. We have been asking countries to sign, two days before our National Day.

 

Trusted Partnership with ICC

 

We work with ICC, I'm glad to see since the signing of the MOU two years ago, and the actual physical setting up of the office last year, the partnership has really done well. The ICC Asia regional office as well as the ICC Academy housed in Maxwell Chambers. And the case management office was also set up in Singapore. That helps us as well because it develops and promotes Singapore as a seat and venue for arbitration in Asia.

 

ICC has helped support businesses in Asia and the world through quality dispute resolution. That is extremely necessary in particular in this region with the booming business and the different approaches to resolving disputes through the judiciary in different parts of the region, different legal systems and different ways of applying the law. I think institutions like ICC, ICC in particular offers a very consistent, clear and trusted approach. If we want to see the billions of dollars per year in infrastructure spending that is projected flow through, if we want to see people's lives improve in this region, then institutions like ICC play a critical role in ensuring that people have the confidence and Singapore and ICC can do a huge amount in this sphere.

 

So I congratulate ICC on its many achievements and we look forward to working in partnership. You can rely on the Singapore Government. And I welcome all the delegates, lawyers. I don’t know if there are non-lawyers, but if you are not, you are welcome too. A very substantive programme has been lined up and I wish all of you a very good conference. Thank you.

Last updated on 08 Jul 2019