Speech by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong SC, at the International Commercial and Legal Cooperation Forum 2021
15 Dec 2021 Posted in [Speeches]
Ladies and Gentlemen
- Good morning to everyone.
- Very happy to participate in the International Commercial and Legal Cooperation Forum again this year. This is my third time speaking at this Forum. The first time was in person in the very dynamic city of Changsha, Hunan – a city which left a deep impression in my mind, and the second time was remote, like this year. Hope to be able to visit Hunan again soon, to catch up with friends there.
- The theme for this year’s Forum is “Innovation Drives Growth, Rules Promote Openness”. This is particularly important in the context of the international commercial and legal fields – which is really what this Forum is all about.
Innovation Drives Growth
- Let me first touch on the first half of the theme is “innovation drives growth”. I think this really goes without saying. A country needs to constantly improve – come up with new ideas, products, services, processes – to boost its economy, which in turn create jobs for its people and uplift its society. Otherwise, it will only stagnate. Unemployment and under-employment will result. Social problems will arise. As our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said: “Change is the very essence of life. The moment we cease to change, to be able to adapt, to adjust, to respond effectively to new situations, then we have begun to die.”
- Both Singapore and China enjoy a strong economy and a stable society, because we are not afraid to innovate.
- Our government-to-government projects – Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City, Chongqing Connectivity Initiative; our state-level bilateral cooperation – Guangzhou Knowledge City, Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative; as well as other private sector-led, government-supported projects, such as Singapore-Sichuan Hi-Tech Innovation Park, Nanjing Eco High-Tech Island, and Jilin Food Zone, are all examples of our joint innovations.
- These projects have brought in foreign investments, provided a platform for local enterprises to internationalise, and accelerated the development of the city and the surrounding area.
But there is more we can do together.
a. My Ministry has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CCPIT on the sidelines of the Singapore-China Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) last year. This is to set up a working group to study the feasibility of developing a joint dispute resolution mechanism. This is the first-of-its-kind for both our countries. It is expected to provide businesses in Singapore, China and the region, or doing businesses in this part of the world, an additional option to resolve their commercial disputes. This can only be good for trade and commerce. So, I look forward to the completion of the study sooner rather than later.
b. China and Singapore will also benefit from greater sharing of knowledge and exchanging of ideas. Legaltech is a good example. China is a leader in legaltech development and patents, accounting for more than half of the legaltech patents filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2019. Singapore, also, has a vibrant legaltech ecosystem with a good concentration of law firms, legaltech firms, research institutions and universities. The Singapore government is also supportive of legaltech and innovation. This will be an exciting space for both Chinese and Singaporean firms to collaborate.
Rules Promote Openness
- Moving on to the second half of the theme – “rules promote openness”. Like innovation, rules and rule of law are critical to a country’s economic and social development. Rules promote transparency in the way things are or should be done. It gives investors confidence that if they follow the rules, they will be protected; and as a result, be more open.
For Singapore, the rule of law is vital, not only as an ideal, but as a foundation upon which our nation was built and provides the framework for our country’s functioning.
a. It is because of our strong rule of law that we are able to attract foreign direct investment (“FDI”), and anchor international companies in our small city state. Singapore is a highly attractive investment destination, and has in recent years, consistently ranked amongst the top 10 in terms of FDI inflows globally. More than 37,000 international companies, including 7,000 multi-national corporations, have their headquarters in Singapore. Many large Chinese companies have also set up regional offices here, to develop new markets in Southeast Asia. We also see an increasing number of Chinese SMEs using Singapore as a springboard to capture growth opportunities from the region.
b. Without trust in our legal system, these companies will not come even if our economy is open. Singapore is one of the easiest places in the world to do business. We have a comprehensive network of free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. We are open to foreign businesses and talent – even in a traditionally protected sector like the legal sector. We allow foreign law firms and lawyers to provide foreign law and international law advice. In the area of international dispute resolution, we have opened up entirely. This has been necessary, as companies become more globalised. They need access to the best talent around the world. To better support the expansion of businesses into Singapore and the region, we recently launched a Professional Services Welcome Pack, which provides easy access to a curated list of professional services providers with strong track record in serving the business needs of foreign companies.
In addition, as companies internationalise and have business in different parts of the world, what they may appreciate is a common set of rules to govern their commercial transactions.
a. Whilst the legal systems are different in different jurisdictions – common law, civil law, statutory law, religious law, or combinations of these – there are some commonalities in the commercial law.
b. There is potential to develop a common set of commercial rules that can be applied by businesses in Singapore, in China and in other countries.
- One such common set of rules for commercial use that countries have reached consensus on is the Singapore Convention on Mediation. It is a uniform and efficient framework for the enforcement of international settlement agreements resulting from mediation. It helps to facilitate international trade and commerce by enabling disputing parties to easily enforce and invoke settlement agreements across borders. This provides businesses with an additional dispute resolution option to litigation and arbitration in settling cross-border disputes – An option that is faster, more cost-effective, flexible, and more importantly, helps to preserves business relationships.
a. 55 countries have signed the Convention, including China; and
b. 8 countries have ratified the Convention.
- The Convention will be more useful for businesses if more countries come on board, especially large economies like China. And I hope that China and other countries will ratify the Convention soon.
- Singapore will be organising the Singapore Convention Week again next year, from 29 August to 2 September 2022. We welcome everyone to participate, and share ideas, knowledge and best practices on how we can resolve disputes more effectively and efficiently.
- Now let me conclude in Mandarin.
- The theme for this year’s Forum is “Innovation drives growth, rules promote openness”.
- I would add that “Cooperation accelerates advancement”.
- Hope that all of us can work together towards a better future.
- Thank you to CCPIT, CCPIT Commercial Legal Service Centre, and Changsha Municipal People’s Government for inviting me to speak.
- I wish you every success in the Forum.
Last updated on 15 Dec 2021