Opening Address by Mdm Rahayu Mahzam, Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Ministry of Health and Ministry of Law, at SIAC Annual India (Delhi) Conference
16 Sep 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
Honourable Justice Mr Vibhu Bakhru, Judge of the Delhi High Court
Mr Davinder Singh SC, Chairman of SIAC Board of Directors
Ms Lucy Reed, President of SIAC Court of Arbitration
SIAC Board and Court Members
Friends from Singapore and India
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. I would like to acknowledge everyone who is here, who has taken time to join us in this very important annual event.
2. It is a very good afternoon, and I am delighted to be here, at the SIAC Annual India Conference.
3. My colleague and boss, Mr Edwin Tong (Second Minister for Law), is unfortunately not able to join us this time, due to some other commitments. He had originally planned to make the trip again this year, to catch up with the friends he had made, at this same conference last year. But he couldn’t change his schedule, try as he might. So, he asked me to convey his regards to all of you.
4. I think his loss is my gain, because I managed to be here, to learn and understand what SIAC has done, and to see all the support and the interest in the work that they are doing.
5. First of all, let me congratulate India on the successful hosting of its first G20 Summit last week. It is an important forum, and as Mr Davinder Singh rightly put it in his opening remarks, it has really put India at the top. It is a forum for the world’s largest economies, and to have it here, it is a major recognition of the developments that India has made.
6. The G20 Summit is a space to address major global issues, and is important, because many of these issues know no geographical boundaries. Everything that happens around the world affects all of us. One thing that happens in one part can have ripple effect on another – from sociopolitical episodes, to economic and environmental incidents. Singapore is honoured to be invited, to participate in the Summit, and play our part in working with other countries, to tackle some of these issues.
7. Likewise, this conference too – on a smaller scale – brings together thought leaders and experts from Singapore, India and beyond, to overcome the challenges in the international arbitration space. We have some of the most established judges, lawyers, and arbitrators here, so I think we are in a good position to have a rich discussion, and cover some ground today.
8. On my part, I thought I could share some of the challenges that international arbitration in Singapore faces – how we view them, and how we are approaching them, especially from the government’s perspective. Let me share three of them.
Challenge 1: Geopolitical Tensions
9. The first challenge is the impact of geopolitical tensions on international arbitration.
10. The physical and trade wars around the world have led to spiralling commodity prices, disrupted global supply chains, greater global food insecurity, skyrocketing interest rates, and rising inflation.
11. This has, in turn, triggered nationalist and isolationist tendencies. Some countries retreated from globalisation, and begun to look inward, as a result of populist movements. According to UNCTAD’s latest Global Trade report, published recently in June this year, growth in global trade in services and goods has slowed down.
12. These macro developments have an impact on business and consumer confidence, which, in turn, affect the volume of cross-border trade and investment, and consequently, international arbitration.
13. At another level, geopolitical tensions may affect the conduct of international arbitration. Parties may be hesitant to choose arbitration in a jurisdiction which is in conflict with theirs, due to concerns over biasness and interference. Sanctions imposed can restrict or complicate the ability of parties to engage in arbitration. Countries involved may resist or delay enforcement of arbitral awards, as a form of diplomatic pressure or retaliation. Tensions may lead to safety concerns for the counsel, arbitrators, and witnesses.
14. Singapore is committed to keeping our arbitration regime open, transparent, independent and neutral for all parties. There is no question that international arbitration administered, seated or heard in Singapore will be subject to any partiality on the part of the government, judiciary, or arbitral institution. This extends even to parties from countries which Singapore may have imposed sanctions and restrictions.
15. We are also committed to working with like-minded partners, to advance and promote arbitration. It is heartening to see our institutions and associations in Singapore and India collaborating with each other. These partnerships are mutually beneficial to both sides, and we welcome more of such cooperation.
Challenge 2: Relevance
16. The second challenge is to ensure the continued relevance of Singapore in international arbitration.
17. Singapore’s position as the most preferred seat of arbitration in the world, and SIAC’s position as the second most preferred arbitral institution in the world, did not happen by chance.
18. Over the years, we have made concerted effort, to strengthen our dispute resolution ecosystem, including the legal framework, institutions, and infrastructure –
(a) Reviewing our legislation regularly, to ensure that they keep pace with global developments and business realities.
(b) Developing a full suite of dispute resolution services – not just arbitration, but also mediation, and international commercial court.
(c) Building purpose-built facilities at Maxwell Chambers.
(d) Attracting and anchoring top international dispute resolution institutions in Singapore.
(e) Advancing thought leadership, through events such as the Singapore Convention Week, which some of you attended.
19. Our main objective for doing all these is to support businesses doing work in, from, and through Singapore.
20. Singapore is a global business and financial hub, with the highest concentration of regional headquarters in the Asia-Pacific. The growth of our economy relies on us providing businesses with an environment they find convenient and efficient to operate or transact in, and dispute resolution services is one component of that.
21. Yesterday, I spoke about how law follows businesses. But we also need to make it, such that the law is conducive for businesses, and attract that business.
22. So, we constantly scan the global landscape, to learn and understand what businesses need, and to stay at the forefront. This is very much like what Mr Cyril Shroff spoke about at the SIAC Mumbai Conference yesterday – the humility and curiosity to keep learning and growing. It could be about time and cost of arbitration; new types of disputes; or new technology to aid arbitration proceedings.
23. At the same time, we continue to maintain our core fundamentals, i.e. to ensure that our rule of law remains strong. Unlike the framework, institutions and infrastructure, which can easily be developed if you have the resources, rule of law is something which takes a long time to build. Not only that, it is also something which has to permeate all segments of society, and therefore, much harder to achieve. You can’t have a clean judiciary on one hand, but on the other, the government or the private sector still doing under-the-table deals.
24. Singapore has painstakingly built up a reputation for good governance, low corruption, efficiency, rule of law, and a trusted legal system. So, parties can be assured that if they use Singapore as the forum, the outcome will be fair, and the process will be efficient and effective.
25. India, too, has developed its international dispute resolution services, with bold legislative reforms, and new arbitration and mediation centres being set up. These efforts will provide parties with more choices, and make the region more attractive for such work. This is beneficial for all of us.
Challenge 3: Talent Development and Inclusivity
26. The third challenge is to have the right people to support the cross-border disputes work.
27. Singapore has chosen to liberalise our arbitration regime, gradually since 1992, because we understand that businesses want the flexibility to engage the best counsel and the best arbitrators – not just the best in Singapore, but the best in the world, including India. And we have many of them in Singapore, and on the SIAC panel.
28. When I met some of the Indian lawyers at the Singapore Convention Week last month, they told me that they visited Singapore often, to do work.
(a) They find it convenient to fly in and fly out.
(b) It is easy to navigate the city, because we are small, with an integrated and efficient transportation system.
(c) They do not feel too much like a foreigner in our country, because of our multicultural and multiethnic society.
(d) I spoke about the food at the SIAC Mumbai Conference yesterday, so you are all good and sorted in Singapore.
29. It is important for us to have that diversity in Singapore.
(a) Diversity in nationality, especially from Asia, because the number of disputes involving Asia is only going to grow, looking at the growth trajectory. China is set to be the largest economy by 2030, India third, and ASEAN fourth. So, we can expect more business activities here, and consequently, more disputes. Not that we are happy about the disputes, but that means good business, for all of us.
(b) It is also important for us to have diversity in age, because we need to build a pipeline of talent. I was really blown away by the youth of the lawyers here in India, and I think it bodes well for the country in developing that pipeline.
(c) Also, diversity in gender, socioeconomic background, expertise, because they bring with them different perspectives and different experiences, which are important in an international dispute.
30. So, for us, it is not just about building a conducive environment for businesses, but also for individuals.
31. The Chief Justice of India, Dr Chandrachud, had spoken and written about the need for greater gender diversity and social inclusivity in the judiciary, and in the legal industry, and I completely agree with him.
32. So these are some of the challenges that I would like to share with all of you.
33. I think we all know that there are many challenges ahead of us, but I believe that, if we work together, we can overcome them easily. Beyond just platitudes, it is really what we see here and do here, at SIAC. It is work in progress, and it is something that shows that we can definitely achieve great things, if we put the best of ourselves together.
34. Opportunities to cooperate always start with knowing one another first, so we need to build a relationship. I therefore look forward to connecting with you at the break, or the networking session later.
35. I apologise in advance, because I have a flight later this evening, and I might have to rush off.
36. But I am really looking forward to hearing from you about your feedback, your ideas, your suggestions as to how we can work together, to make this better. If we don’t have a chance to speak, please feel free to reach out to me. We are very accessible through email, and I would really love to hear and understand what are some of the needs of the businesses here.
37. Thank you very much, and I wish you a most fruitful conference.
Last updated on 16 September 2023