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Opening Address by Minister for Finance Mr Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) Congress 2018 at St. Regis Hotel

17 May 2018

The Honourable The Chief Justice Mr Sundaresh Menon


Mr Lucien Wong, Attorney General


Mr Davinder Singh, Chairman of SIAC


Ladies and gentlemen



Introductory Remarks


  1. Good morning, and a very warm welcome to our guests visiting Singapore from abroad.


  2. This year’s SIAC Congress focuses on “Charting the Future of International Arbitration”. I will attempt to do so by:


    1. Examining some global trends;


    2. Considering what these trends mean for international arbitration; and


    1. Sharing Singapore’s response.



    The Growth of Asia


  3. The centre of economic gravity continues to shift towards Asia.


    1. East Asia and the Pacific grew at 6.6% last year, more than double the 3.1% growth of the global economy.


    1. ASEAN is already the 6th largest economy in the world, with a combined GDP of USD 2.56 trillion.


    1. China’s GDP has quadrupled since it joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001.


      1. The Belt and Road Initiative, which is expected to cover one-third of global GDP, will further catalyse growth and economic cooperation.


    2. India is expected to grow at 7.3% this year.
      1. With India reforming its economy and partnering Japan to build the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, we can expect it to play a bigger role in the future.






  4. Asia’s growth will stimulate cross-border trade.


  5. As Asian economies grow, their companies will seek out new resources and markets, and forge new partnerships.


    1. Intra-ASEAN trade is projected to exceed USD 375 billion by 2025. Trade with ASEAN’s external partners will grow in tandem.


    1. Chinese companies are internationalising. Tencent and Alibaba are now among the world’s top 10 companies by market capitalisation. Singapore is also home to around 7,500 Chinese companies.


    1. Indian companies are venturing out. In Singapore alone, there is already a contingent of over 7,000 Indian companies.


  6. More international companies will expand their presence in Asia, to tap on the opportunities here.


  7. The corresponding growth in cross-border commerce will require the support of strong professional services, including dispute resolution services. Why?


    1. When business takes place across borders, parties need to consider local customs and regulations.


    2. They will turn to professionals such as accountants, engineers and lawyers to ensure that deals and projects are compliant, well-structured and well-executed.


    1. All businesses come with an inherent risk of disagreements – and cross-border businesses may lead to particularly complex disputes. The ability to handle disputes properly can therefore be key to a project’s viability.


    1. This gives investors assurances that any disputes can be settled in a neutral, impartial and efficient manner, without jeopardising the entire project.


    2. This increases trust and confidence in the business venture.


    1. Arbitration, in particular, is often preferred when disputes arise between parties from multiple jurisdictions, who may not want to go to the local courts of any party.


  8. As a Global-Asia node of innovation, technology and enterprise, Singapore is in a good position to cater to this growing demand for professional and dispute resolution services. Let me elaborate.


    1. Singapore is an international business hub situated in the heart of Asia. We have long served as a base for international companies that want to access Asia, and as a platform for Asian companies to go global.


    2. We are a trusted place, with rule of law, and a stable legal system.


    1. This makes us a good choice for parties who wish to resolve disputes in a neutral, third-party venue.


    2. Today, we are the third most preferred seat of arbitration globally.


    1. We have built up a strong dispute resolution ecosystem, with a full suite of options for users to choose from.


      1. SIAC was recently named the third most preferred arbitral institution globally, with a diverse panel of reputable arbitrators from around the world.


      2. The Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) provides innovative commercial mediation services.
    2. Disputes can also be heard at Maxwell Chambers, the world’s first integrated dispute resolution complex.


    3. In addition, as a global node for dispute resolution, we are open and inclusive.


      1. Parties not only have access to a full suite of dispute resolution institutions, but also to a wide range of legal service providers.


      2. We have an open regime for international arbitration, which allows parties to engage lawyers of any nationality.


    1. The Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) hears international commercial disputes, including those governed by foreign law and with no connection with Singapore. This provides a court-based option for users who prefer litigation.


    1. Key international dispute resolution institutions have also set up offices in Singapore, including:
      • the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC-ICA);
      • the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA);
      • the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution (AAA-ICDR); and
      • the World Intellectual Property Organisation Arbitration and Mediation Centre (WIPO-AMC).


    2. Parties can be assured of a quality and reputable institution to handle the mode of dispute resolution which is best suited for their needs.



    1. Almost half of the top 100 law firms by revenue have a presence in Singapore, along with leading barristers’ chambers.


    1. This means choice and convenience for all parties involved – parties, counsel, arbitrators – even if you come from abroad.


  9. The ability to serve international parties’ needs for professional and dispute resolution services can, in turn, enhance Singapore as a Global-Asia node.


  10. Consider the infrastructure sector, which exemplifies how we can contribute to the region’s development.


    1. It is estimated that USD 26 trillion will be spent over the next 15 years on infrastructure projects in Asia, to support the growth of Asian economies.


    2. Many potential projects are looking for financing, and many financiers are looking to fund good projects. However, bankability is sometimes an issue because of project preparation, structuring or technical matters.


    1. Singapore’s professional services can help to bridge this bankability gap.


    1. As a leading financial centre, we have a track record of financing infrastructure projects. Banks based here have provided loans and financial advisory services for an estimated 60% of infrastructure projects in Asia.


    2. Multilateral development banks such as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation are present here, offering a critical source of infrastructure finance and expertise.


    1. We have a rich ecosystem of professional services firms to facilitate infrastructure projects, including through:
      • Project advisory services;
      • Engineering consultancy; and
      • Project management.


    2. Our law firms and international law firms operating here also have infrastructure and dispute resolution expertise.


    3. This is important because infrastructure projects tend to be long-term and high-value endeavours. Yet, variations and delays are common. The ability to settle disputes properly is key to their bankability.


  11. In short, professional services, dispute resolution, and arbitration are important to Asia’s growth, and Singapore can add value as a key node for these services.





  12. This future is contingent on, amongst other things, an open and rules-based international economic order.


    1. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said recently, Asia has outperformed the global economy because of our openness. This has deepened our linkages with the rest of the world, and fostered international economic cooperation.


    1. Many countries have prospered from this.


    1. China is a good example:


    1. The Belt and Road Initiative will greatly increase connectivity, trade, and people-to-people connections.


    2. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is another open and inclusive multilateral initiative that will enhance economic links.


    1. Singapore has been an early supporter of both initiatives, because we recognise that an open and inclusive architecture will benefit all parties.








  13. Those, in brief, are some of the trends and opportunities that bear watching. How should one respond? Perhaps I can share Singapore’s perspective.




  14. First, to effectively harness Asia’s potential, we need to work together and look outwards.


  15. Asia has made a good start in this. ASEAN was formed precisely to encourage cooperation among Member States and with its external partners.


  16. Singapore too is taking steps in this direction.


    1. We are setting up Infrastructure Asia. This office will facilitate the financing, development and execution of infrastructure projects in the region, by connecting stakeholders across the entire value chain.


    2. Minister Indranee Rajah recently launched Lawyers Go Global, a programme by the Ministry of Law, Enterprise Singapore and the Law Society, to support our law firms and lawyers to venture abroad.


  17. SIAC is also a salient case study in internationalisation.


    1. During SIAC’s early years in the 1990s, its caseload was relatively small, and focused more on domestic disputes.


    2. But SIAC grew rapidly as it internationalised.


    1. Today, over 80% of SIAC’s cases are international, many of which have no connection with Singapore. Its users come from over 60 jurisdictions.


    1. So international parties are coming to SIAC, and SIAC is also going to them: it has set up offices in Seoul, Shanghai, Mumbai and Gujarat.


    1. These efforts have translated into a record-breaking caseload, with 452 filings last year, a more than 30% increase from the previous year.


    1. Congratulations, SIAC, on these achievements.




  18. Second, innovation is necessary to remain relevant and responsive to challenges.


  19. This is why Singapore has chosen “Innovation and Resilience” as the theme of our ASEAN Chairmanship this year.


  20. In arbitration, there have been criticisms, including costs and delays – you know these issues better than me.


  21. The ability to find novel solutions to these criticisms will determine whether arbitration survives and thrives in the future.


  22. For Singapore, we have consciously made changes to keep up with the evolving landscape.


    1. Last year, we amended legislation to allow third-party funding.


  23. SIAC has also continually refreshed its services to stay ahead of the game.


    1. It was the first institution in Asia to introduce an Emergency Arbitrator mechanism.


    2. Today, SIAC is not only organising a Congress to debate the “Future of International Arbitration”, it has also introduced a radical cross-institution consolidation protocol.


    1. This commitment to innovation will help it to stand out.




  24. Third, we should make full use of technology.


  25. Technology is changing how business is done. It is replacing some tasks, augmenting some jobs, and even creating new roles. While we may not know the impact fully now, we should know enough to respond accordingly.


  26. For the arbitration community, technological disruption is less remote than it sounds.


    1. In the US, there is a software known as Lex Machina. Minister Indranee told me that it uses data aggregated from past cases to predict the outcomes of cases. This could impact whether parties decide to arbitrate, and the way pre-arbitration advice is given.


    2. Online dispute resolution already exists. One might consider whether it could someday become a viable alternative to arbitration, or even a substitute.





  27. To conclude, let me return to the theme of the conference:


    1. The future of international arbitration is promising.


    2. The growth of Asia will unlock many opportunities for all.


    1. And Singapore and SIAC can contribute to that growth.


    1. Among others, Singapore is responding to the changes through internationalisation, innovation, and the use of technology.


    2. How well the arbitration community is able to remain a part of that growth will depend on how it responds to the evolving landscape.


  28. Thank you. I wish you all very fruitful discussions ahead.