Welcome Address by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong SC, at the UNCITRAL Academy Conference
29 Aug 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
Ms Anna Joubin-Bret, Secretary of UNCITRAL
His Excellency Marcin Czepelak, Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Thank you very much, and a warm welcome to this morning’s session, as well as to this year’s Singapore Convention Week. Your presence, your thought leadership coming from different jurisdictions and indeed as you saw in the video earlier, coming from different cultural context, sharing with us that nuance that you bring from the different jurisdictions and different cultures makes this week’s event much richer, a lot more vibrant. And we are very privileged to have all of you here.
2. I would also like to bid a good afternoon and good evening, to all those watching us live on livestream in other time zones.
3. Welcome to the UNCITRAL Academy Conference.
4. Just outside earlier while having coffee, I bumped into lots of familiar faces in the audience – not just our local friends here from Singapore, but many of our foreign friends as well. So welcome, and your support has been something that we are very privileged to enjoy. I hope you will enjoy this week’s events I had a look at the programme. It is very well curated. I think you heard Diana say earlier, the range of topics that we are covering. I think it will be a fabulous week.
(a) We started with the SIAC Symposium, and the Singapore Convention Week Welcome Reception last evening.
(b) Today, we will have the UNCITRAL Academy Conference, and the ‘Breaking with Convention’ Networking Event, something to look forward to this evening.
(c) And over the next three days, we will have about 30 odd events, including the UNCITRAL Workshops, and partner events by a whole range of other leading dispute resolution institution thought leaders like SIMC, SICC, SCMA, SIMI, and Maxwell Chambers. And I will run through in very typical Singaporean style, lots of these acronyms, so you got to keep up with me. ICC, INSOL, IBA, IPBA, SIArb, CIArb, and many others.
(d) So, there will be plenty of opportunities, not just to share the latest developments, understand the latest innovative and novel approaches that we all take to resolving disputes, but also to exchange views, discuss ideas, and perhaps most importantly, build new networks from across different jurisdictions. We spent the majority of the last couple of years hunkered down because of COVID-19. I think the time has come for us to be in-person to reconnect, to establish relationships. And I think that is what really will move the needle when it comes to moving forward dispute resolution.
Theme of Conference: Tomorrow’s World Today
5. Indeed, the theme of this year’s UNCITRAL Academy is “Tomorrow’s World Today : Leading the Future of Dispute Resolution”.
6. Some of you might have heard of this show, an old Science show – “Tomorrow’s World Today”. I used to watch it by the way. So I am showing my age a little bit. You watch it and it will tell you what are some of the innovations today that will appear in reality tomorrow.
(a) It was on the Science Channel by the way, just to show the geek side of me as well. The latest innovations of course, focus on science and technology, and it is also about innovations that are conceived of today, might be just an idea or just a thought, but a reality tomorrow.
(b) And so likewise, that, I think is going to be the guiding principle for our discussions this morning, and certainly this week, and our panellists and debaters aim to do the same today, but instead of science, it is in this field of dispute resolution. We will have:
(i) a fireside chat on dispute settlement involving the States, and I think many of you in the audience here today will know that that's increasingly a prevalent topic. Something that is becoming very relevant, and making sure that the dissension, the fault lines that might exist internationally, can best be resolved, if possible, amicably through mediation;
(ii) we will have panel discussions on dispute resolution in the digital economy, and carbon markets, and how we navigate intercultural needs in mediation and arbitration, something that I think is particularly important, because much as we might see, as lawyers, the legal side of the dispute, a lot of the mediation can best be approached by seeing the cultural context and the different nuances that a parties might place on the dispute. And that is really the key to unlocking the mediation behind the dispute;
(iii) we will also be building industry capacity, having workshops on mediation and advocacy; and
(iv) and indeed, having a very interesting debate on whether robots can make better arbitrators and mediators than humans. I would look forward to watching that debate and seeing which side prevails.
(c) These are all very important emerging areas for us to consider.
(i) Economic activities that are driven by digital technologies, such as e-commerce, online services, and digital platforms, the different issues about dealing with trade, and buying off the internet and e-commerce in a new way. Payment modalities, the role of blockchains, how we protect data and how we protect emerging IP and trademark, all of these are new issues in the context of an old way of doing business.
(ii) Sustainability has also become a key consideration for governments and businesses around the world, as they seek to minimise their environmental impact. And therefore carbon markets have gained traction as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
(iii) Other buzzwords that we will hear about today and very often this week, generative AI and ChatGPT. In fact, ChatGPT is becoming a little passe already. Their capabilities are continually expanding the role that they might play in forwarding the future of the legal industry and the future lawyer, how these technologies, driven by advancements in machine learning and neural network architectures will make a difference in the practice of the law and the interaction with our clients.
(iv) All these have implications on the way we do business, and hence, the disputes that inadvertently arise.
(v) Mediation as a means of resolving disputes has seen an increased uptake by States and businesses alike. And I think all of us know, it is not difficult to see why, because it is often, if you can find a solution, a win-win solution that preserves years if not decades of hard earned relationship building. It is less adversarial, and really leaves a lot more room for continued relationship. And in today's world, where a lot more fractures exist in relationships, I think that is an intangible, or certainly very valuable asset.
7. We have therefore chosen these topics, and I have just skimmed the surface of the topics, so that we can all think about, and learn and discuss the latest thought developments from business leaders and legal thought leaders from around the world.
Singapore’s Philosophy: Building Today for Tomorrow
8. Indeed, building the world today for tomorrow has always been Singapore’s philosophy since our independence.
(a) Our motive has always been to invest today for tomorrow, to build today for tomorrow.
(b) And we are often conscious of our role as stewards of the assets, of the gifts that we have in Singapore, for the generation of tomorrow. We think about the need, not just of this generation, but also of the next generation, and indeed, beyond that, of users, of people, of Singaporeans who come after us and what we can do to leave Singapore and our economy, our country and our society in a far better state for tomorrow's generation than we have today. And the same applies to our approach, to the way we do business, the way in which we build our society, and indeed in the way in which we build up our legal industry.
9. So let me explain. That philosophy can be seen in many of Singapore’s policies and initiatives, developing Singapore as a global business centre, as a key priority.
(a) We chose an export-led industrialisation (by opening up our domestic market to foreign competition), when conventional wisdom would have called for import substitution at that time, when we first became independent and we were opening up Singapore, deciding on the path to take. When our unemployment rate was high at that time, we were choosing something that ran against the grain but allowed us to be a lot more connected to the rest of the world and playing our role as a hub and a transhipment location in Singapore.
(b) We decided to grow Singapore as a global air hub, which was quite unthinkable at that time. Air hubs were often located near large population centres.
(i) And when we decided to do it, we were a population of 2.2 million, barely a city, in the context of many other countries. around Asia, Europe, and the US. Nonetheless, we made a decision to build Changi Airport in 1975, and even now, with a modest 5.5 million population – a fraction of the population in many cities around the world – cities, not even countries.
(ii) But Singapore today, has got four terminals in a span of less than 40 years. And we are now starting construction on terminal 5, which will be larger than all the four terminals combined, and we will start this in 2025. Again, why? Because we are building today for tomorrow.
(c) The same goes for shipping and transhipment, another anchor and bedrock in our economic development.
(i) The Tuas Mega Port, when completed in 2040s, will become the world’s largest fully automated container terminal in the world, which will almost double the handling capacity of what Singapore is doing now. And Singapore today has been doing well, but we intend to more than double the capacity with technology by the 2040s.
(ii) It will feature automated wharves and yard functions, driverless guided vehicles, as well as video analytics, amongst the other technologies that will be added to it.
10. If we were only thinking of the present and what we do today, on today’s paradigm, we would not be doing Tuas Mega Port. We would not be looking at Terminal 5 for Changi.
11. But we have applied that philosophy to think of what we might need in future generations not just years but decades from today. And we start doing that today. We applied the same philosophy to developing Singapore into the leading international dispute resolution hub that it is today. We have done well over the past couple of decades, but we know that there is a lot more to be done. And that is why it is important for us to have a week like this, where we have thought leaders like all of you from around the world coming here, sharing your leadership, your expertise, and your knowledge generously, and that allows us to move forward as well.
(a) We turned a heritage building into Maxwell Chambers, many of you would have been familiar with, you are either based in Maxwell Chambers or you have been at Maxwell Chambers for a hearing or a meeting. And at a time when there was no Maxwell Chambers-equivalent, in the middle of COVID-19, we more than doubled Maxwell Chambers' capacity, because we saw that there will be need for the use of Maxwell Chambers again building today for tomorrow, looking beyond the present needs and looking beyond today's paradigm for tomorrow. Having Maxwell Chambers also allows for us to locate the leading thought legal institutions in the world, in Singapore, in one location.
(i) Today, in Maxwell Chambers, we have the Permanent Court of Arbitration, we have ICC Court of Arbitration, we have AAA International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), and WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre, all based within a few meters of each other, at Maxwell Chambers Suites.
(1) And indeed, we are very happy that they have chosen to set up their offices here. Having brought them in here, they now develop, they bring in their expertise into Singapore. They share their expertise with us, and they make Singapore one of the stops for their training and for their work and activity.
(2) All of this activity adds to the richness and vibrancy of our own dispute resolution ecosystem.
(3) And their presence allows for more frequent interactions and far greater collaborations, and you can do so on your way to the washroom, out for lunch, as you come back from lunch, bump into one another in the corridors and that sparks conversations, and we have seen many collaborations arise because of such chance encounters.
(4) The sharing of views, the cross-pollination of ideas, which are just a lot more organic, when you are able to call one another, just from across the corridor.
(b) We also developed a comprehensive suite of international commercial dispute resolution services, whether it is in mediation, or arbitration, or litigation. And in litigation, you can choose to litigate in the High Court, the Supreme Court or in the SICC, when few, if any other countries, have this triumvirate of institutions coming together. And we do this because we know that while we might see these as different services as lawyers, the business community, however, does not look at each of them as separate solutions. They are not seen in silos, but what they want is they want the suite of options as a business solution. How do we best resolve their business disputes and how do we best allow them to get on with their economic activity in a fair, open, transparent way? And that is the value proposition.
UNCITRAL’s Philosophy: Developing Instruments Today for Tomorrow
12. From what I see of UNCITRAL’s work, and I am very glad that Anna is here, joining us this morning, I think UNCITRAL very much holds that same philosophy as what I have just articulated in Singapore.
(a) They formulate modern, fair, and harmonised rules on commercial transactions, including conventions, model laws, and rules. And indeed, I must say, clear, transparent rules based firmly on the rule of law helps us to grow economic activity, the more confidence the business has in the openness and transparency of the governance, the more likely it is that they will make investments in a particular jurisdiction.
(b) UNCITRAL promotes the use and adoption of legislative as well as non-legislative instruments.
(c) Way before all countries recognise the full potential, and assent to them.
13. And indeed, I must say that the reason we are all here, the Singapore Convention on Mediation, is actually one example.
(a) The issue of enforceability of mediated settlement agreements was raised, actually not in 2019, when it was signed, but way back from at least 2002, when the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Conciliation was being prepared. But at that time, it could not be resolved, because there was no consensus. There was no acceptance that mediation or conciliation was the way to go.
b) But UNCITRAL, to their credit, did not give up, they persevered, they knew that this was something that would be a real game changer when it comes to having an option for parties to resolve their disputes quickly, fast, cheaper and preserving the relationship. And so they revived it in 2015.
(c) At that time, and even now, international commercial mediation was not as prevalent as court litigation and arbitration.
(d) But luckily for us, they recognised that there would be a growing need in the future. And so they pushed it along, energised parties, brought consensus, and that culminated in 2019.
(e) Today, we have 56 signatories, and 11 Parties to the Convention. Not bad, given that in the past four or five years, we have had two and a half to three years of COVID-19. So I think this will really power on after 2023. I am very confident that more and more will ratify and sign on to this convention. And indeed, each time I make a trip overseas, I meet my counterparts, I meet the law and justice ministers overseas, I make the same pitch. I think George is staring at me because he has also joined me in some of these pitches, because we want to explain to parties that the more countries, the more jurisdictions come on board, the more likely it is that different businesses will see the ability and the confidence to do trade with other businesses from jurisdictions that have signed on to the Convention. So the greater it is in numbers, the more likely it is that we can use this as a way to grow businesses.
14. Finally, as I conclude this morning’s welcome, let me say that every innovation, big or small, begins with an idea somewhere, no one has a monopoly over good ideas. And that is why it is really so important, coming back to my opening point of having all of us together today, not just in these formal sessions, but also the informal ones too.
15. And Singapore hopes to be able to provide that bridge, and that hub, and become the aggregator or the connector, to bring that thought leadership to a common platform to spark those ideas, and in turn, hope to bridge ideas and turn them into reality, like what we see on the Science Channel, tomorrow’s world today.
16. So I hope that you will have a rich discussion this week, have exciting discussions, share your ideas generously, have great networking sessions, whether it is drinks this evening or coffee sessions, to get everyone’s creative juices going, and bring us a step closer to building tomorrow’s world in dispute resolution right here today.
17. So I wish all of you a very intellectually stimulating, a very enjoyable week, and hope to see you at the ‘Breaking with Convention’ Networking Event this evening.
18. Thank you very much, enjoy the week.
Last updated on 29 August 2023