Keynote Address by Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam SC at UNCITRAL Academy 2021
Friends and colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
- Good evening in Singapore, and good morning, good afternoon to the rest of you tuning in from different parts of the world. Thank you for joining us.
- We warmly welcome everyone to this inaugural UNCITRAL Academy 2021. We are meeting in difficult circumstances, so we doubly thank you for being with us – some physically, some virtually.
- Singapore is happy to be co-organising this event with UNCITRAL. We worked together in 2019 on the Singapore Convention. This year, we are working together again. We thank UNCITRAL Secretary Anna Joubin-Bret, UNCITRAL legal officer Judith Knieper and the UNCITRAL team, for the strong support that you have given us. It has been a good and extremely meaningful partnership.
- We have a common goal, to promote the development, understanding and use of international dispute resolution instruments across the world. One of the key pieces in that is the Singapore Convention on Mediation (SCM).
The Singapore Convention on Mediation
- The SCM is a significant development in international dispute resolution. Those of you who were with us two years ago know the points that were made. Before the Convention, there was no uniform efficient framework for enforcing international mediation agreements – by this, I mean mediated settlement agreements. They had to be enforced like any other contract, according to local mediation laws, if there were any. That really affected the use of international mediation.
- With the Singapore Convention, parties can now enforce their mediated settlement agreements in Convention countries – more efficient, more effective, more certainty. It gives parties much greater confidence that mediation can be used to resolve their cross-border disputes. It also helps to facilitate trade and commerce, and it’s good for the global economy overall.
A World in Transition
- The Singapore Convention opened for signature on 7 August 2019. We were very happy to host more than 1,500 delegates from 70 countries. It’s not quite thinkable right now.
- Since then, the world has taken a sharp turn – COVID-19, and the devastating impact it has had on life and health and also businesses. Sectors like tourism, aviation, have come to a near standstill, and businesses have not been able to fulfil their contractual obligations. Investments have been wiped out, economies have crashed.
- In addition to COVID-19, what we’ve seen in the last few years is increased civil unrest and political instability, both in this region and across the world. Geopolitical tensions have also increased.
- There has been increased trade protectionism. Some countries we see are progressively imposing discretionary non-transparent measures; new restrictions on goods, services, data. This is reversing decades of progress towards open markets. Earlier this year, the International Chamber of Shipping had a study, and it published a report titled “Protectionism in Maritime Economies”. It pointed out that reducing trade protectionism could lead to GDP growth by 3.4% for national economies, and growth in exports of up to 4.5% for high-income countries. So what’s happening now is damaging economies around the world, and the companies and consumers pay the price.
But what do all these trends mean for us in the context of the Singapore Convention on Mediation? What you have is:
a. Fractured world markets;
b. Business environment has become more volatile;
c. Commercial risks have increased;
d. Higher levels of uncertainty amongst businesses;
e. Global trade and commerce have been hurt.
Responding to a World in Transition
- With so much uncertainty and unpredictability, disputes are likely to arise. Therefore, the need for a good dispute resolution mechanism is even greater now.
- To go back to COVID-19, those of you from Singapore will know what happened. We saw COVID-19 and what it was going to do to businesses, and we moved in with COVID 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 [support measures], which aligned the obligations, prevented lawsuits and reapportioned the obligations in a way that reduced the pain that would otherwise come from lawsuits, and tried to get parties to move on. Significantly, the number of bankruptcies and winding-ups last year were the least in the last 10 years.
- COVID-19 has showed us how quickly disputes can occur and how unexpected circumstances can lead to disputes. The assumptions made by businesses before COVID-19 have changed completely.
- With businesses facing difficulties and many of them facing declining revenue, profit margins being trimmed and an uncertain future, mediation becomes extremely important.
- The Singapore Convention on Mediation takes on far greater, far more significant importance in this context.
- So far, more than 50 countries have signed the Convention. Enough countries have ratified it, the Convention has come into force. But we need many more countries to sign and ratify soon, because the effectiveness of the Convention depends obviously on how many parties ratify it.
We are committed in Singapore to enhancing the utility of the Singapore Convention, and we will work with UNCITRAL to share our experiences and provide technical assistance to countries.
a. We are holding a series of workshops for government officials and industry today and tomorrow.
b. We work with UNCITRAL to help build capacity for countries. In this we are partnering the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy (SIDRA), the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) as well. All are partnering with us.
- SIMC is also working with partners to equip more professionals from around the world with skills in mediation, to meet the expected increase in the need for mediation services.
- There are good reasons to believe that the future of international mediation will be bright, and that the Singapore Convention on Mediation will play an increasingly important role.
I would like to end this short address by thanking:
a. UNCITRAL, for its support in the UNCITRAL Academy;
b. Our Singapore Convention Week partner organisations, who organised this week-long series of activities on the latest innovations and trends in alternative dispute resolution;
c. Our friends, many of our friends are here;
d. Participants from all around the world joining us today.
- We hope to see you again next year, hopefully in easier circumstances, in Singapore, for the 2022 UNCITRAL Academy and the Singapore Convention Week. Mark the date – 29th August to 2nd September.
- Thank you very much.
Last updated on 7 Sep 2021