Thursday, 8 August 2019

Singapore Convention: 46 countries sign UN mediation treaty named after Singapore

PM Lee Hsien Loong hails signing of UN treaty as powerful statement in support of multilateralism
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2019

A landmark United Nations treaty that aims to promote the use of mediation in settling cross-border commercial disputes was signed by 46 countries yesterday, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hailing it as a powerful statement in support of multilateralism.

The Singapore Convention on Mediation, the first UN treaty to be named after Singapore, provides a uniform international framework to enforce mediated agreements. Its aim is to give businesses more confidence in opting for mediation to resolve disputes, ultimately facilitating international trade.

"Today, a group of states have come together to recommit ourselves to multilateralism and to declare that we remain open for business, we are prepared to make binding commitments, and we are committed to preserve our relationships," said PM Lee.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat added last night: "The signing of the convention is a clear signal of our commitment to a rules-based international order."

Singapore was the first to put ink to paper yesterday, followed by some of the biggest economies in the world including the United States, China and India. Delegates from 70 countries gathered in Singapore for the historic occasion, which also saw an orchid named the "Aranda Singapore Convention on Mediation".

Speaking via video conference at the ceremony, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed PM Lee's remarks, saying the convention would contribute towards strengthening the rule of law and multilateralism.

Multilateralism has come under stress in recent years from growing inequality brought by globalisation.



PM Lee suggested multilateral institutions should be reformed and brought up to date as the alternative - a world without international rules, where might is right - disadvantages all. "Such a world would be especially challenging for countries like Singapore," he added.

PM Lee said the convention, drafted and negotiated by a working group chaired by a Singaporean, is the latest example of Singapore's commitment to the UN and the international community. "We may be a small country, with limited manpower and no natural resources, but nevertheless we do our best to contribute our part."

The Singapore Convention is seen as the missing third piece in the international dispute resolution enforcement framework.

Awards resulting from arbitration and court judgments are already enforceable across borders under other conventions. While mediation is a less costly and less adversarial option, it has been limited as resulting agreements are only contractually binding.



The Singapore Convention will give the process teeth, with signatory countries required to enforce mediated agreements in their courts.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Stephen Mathias, who declared the treaty open for signature, said the convention would "bring legal certainty for fair settlement of disputes through mediation in the same way (the) New York Convention did for arbitration".

Senior advocate Sriram Panchu, who was instrumental in developing mediation as part of India's legal system, said it will also go some way towards creating a climate of confidence when businesses want to invest in a signatory country.

More than 100 delegations, including country representatives and inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, had worked for three years on the treaty, which was named after Singapore in recognition of the key role Singaporeans played in the process. For the treaty to come into force, at least three countries have to sign and ratify it.



Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, describing the response to it so far as "astonishing", said Singapore is likely to ratify it fairly quickly. He added: "If it is signed up to by a large number of countries, and it is enforced by a large number of countries, then you can imagine mediation will become very attractive because it is now enforceable. That's why this 46 as a start is a flying start."

Additional reporting by Adrian Lim















UN mediation treaty shows countries' support for rules-based international order: DPM Heng Swee Keat
This is crucial now as system underpinning global stability is under pressure, says DPM
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2019

The Singapore Convention on Mediation, which was signed by 46 countries in Singapore yesterday, is more than just a strengthening of international dispute resolution, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

It also bears testament to countries' continued commitment to a rules-based international order, which is particularly crucial now, as the system that has underpinned global peace and stability is coming under pressure, he added.

Mr Heng said a rules-based international world order benefits all countries.

"It allows for predictability and the management of relations and issues based on agreed principles. This in turn assures countries, big and small, that their interests will be taken into account," he said at a gala dinner.



A rules-based international order provides a strong foundation for the international community to tackle the many global issues together, he told the audience of over 600 at Shangri-La Hotel.

"These include tackling global warming and climate change, improving food security and access to clean water, and reducing poverty and the risk of pandemics," he said.

Mr Heng added that the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation comes on the back of Singapore's longstanding commitment to the international rule of law and efforts to serve the needs of firms in the region.

The Republic has been a strong advocate for a rules-based international order, as seen in the active role it played at the UN, including negotiation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and by providing a trusted and neutral venue for commercial dispute resolution, among others, Mr Heng said.

In his 16-minute address, he also highlighted that with a rise in cross-border commercial transactions in the region, more cross-border differences may arise, and parties need fair and efficient ways to resolve disputes in a timely manner, he noted.

While litigation and arbitration appeal to businesses, with certainty that judgments and arbitral awards can be enforced internationally, mediation has risen in prominence, Mr Heng said.

"Mediation is cheaper and faster. It preserves harmony and business relationships, which is in line with many cultures, particularly in Asia," he added.



He said mediation is also useful for resolving disputes over infrastructure projects that are inherently complex and involve long-term commitments between multiple parties, jurisdictions and contracts.

"Litigation or arbitration proceedings, once initiated, are often protracted. In the meantime, the project stalls. The earlier and more swiftly problems can be resolved, the better.

"Mediation is therefore a good option for such disputes, because it focuses on solving the problem rather than on deciding who is right. It seeks to resolve the problem in a way that will preserve relationships and allow the project to go on," said Mr Heng.

But while mediation has its advantages, its utility is limited if parties are not assured of enforcement, said Mr Heng, which is why the convention - the first UN treaty to be named after the Republic - is critical to the adoption of international commercial mediation as a dispute resolution option.

"The convention will make it easier for businesses to enforce mediated settlement agreements with their cross-border counterparts," he said.
















Key facts about the Singapore Convention
By Cara Wong, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2019

The Singapore Convention on Mediation opened for signatures yesterday. Here are some key facts about the convention - the first to be named after Singapore.

Q WHAT IS MEDIATION?

A Mediation is one of three main dispute resolution methods. Companies in a dispute can choose to resolve it by litigation, which involves hiring lawyers to undertake litigation, or by going for arbitration, with an arbitrator making a decision for the parties based on evidence. In mediation, a neutral third party, a mediator, assists in negotiations until the two sides reach a settlement.


Q WHAT IS THE SINGAPORE CONVENTION ON MEDIATION AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

A The convention is a treaty that sets out a provision for the enforcement of settlement agreements across borders. Countries that ratify it will have to ensure that international commercial settlement agreements are enforced by their courts. The courts of signatories are expected to handle applications - either to enforce such an agreement, or to allow a party to invoke the agreement to prove the matter has already been resolved.





Q WHICH ARE THE 46 COUNTRIES THAT HAVE SIGNED?

A They are Singapore, Afghanistan, Belarus, Benin, Brunei, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Fiji, Georgia, Grenada, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Montenegro, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Palau, Paraguay, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.


 



Q A SCENARIO WHERE IT MIGHT APPLY:

A When companies based in different countries get into a dispute over a long-running project, they might not want to risk derailing the project with a legal battle. They may choose to negotiate with each other, assisted by a mediator, to reach a settlement agreement.

The agreement is binding, if their home countries have ratified the treaty. Companies need not fear the other would default on the agreement, as they could turn to the courts in their countries for help in enforcing the agreement.


Q HOW BIG IS MEDIATION IN SINGAPORE?

A The Singapore International Mediation Centre, an independent body offering dispute resolution services for businesses, now sees about 30 cases a year. SIMC chairman George Lim said it is a promising figure, given it was set up in 2014 and mediation cases take time to come about. Around 85 per cent of such disputes are settled with the assistance of a mediator.





Countries will be 'fairly quick' to ratify Singapore Convention on Mediation: Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2019

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam expects Singapore and some other countries to be "fairly quick" in ratifying and putting into force the Singapore Convention on Mediation.

However, he said he would not want to put a timeframe on when this would happen, as the legislatures in the countries - including Singapore's - would have to go through their own processes leading up to the ratification.

"But I think in international terms, I expect that this would be relatively fast. And I think next year, we will see more and more countries signing up.

"I would be surprised if it hasn't come into force before the middle of next year," he said at a press conference yesterday.

The United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation was signed by 46 countries in Singapore yesterday.

The international treaty - which would need to be ratified by three countries before it can come into force - will provide for the enforcement of mediated settlement agreements across countries.

Mr Shanmugam said the convention has a framework, a model law that countries can look at.

He added that the countries' respective ministries - such as a Justice Ministry or a Trade and Industry Ministry - will have to work with their legal advisers and draft the laws to implement the treaty.

"These things take some time," he said.

In Singapore's case, Parliament would have to pass a Bill before Singapore can ratify the convention.

Of the 70 countries that sent representatives to the Singapore Convention Signing Ceremony and Conference held at Shangri-La Hotel, 46 signed the international mediation treaty.

"Given that the UN passed its resolution in December of last year, we are talking about... seven, eight months, it's quite unprecedented in terms of numbers for the signing ceremony," said Mr Shanmugam.

He noted that the signatories included the world's two largest economies, the United States and China, and three of the four largest economies in Asia - China, India and South Korea.



Mr Shanmugam said the convention signing ceremony is one of five significant events taking place in Singapore that relate to the legal sector.

On Monday, Insol, a London-based umbrella body for restructuring and insolvency associations, launched its Asian arm in Singapore. A day after, the International Bar Association held its inaugural Asia Pacific Arbitration Conference in Singapore.

Maxwell Chambers Suites, an extension of Maxwell Chambers, will officially open today. Established in 2010, Maxwell Chambers was the world's first integrated dispute resolution complex.

The American Arbitration Association's International Centre for Dispute Resolution will also launch its Asia hub today.





Cost savings for companies prompt many states to ink Singapore Convention
By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2019

Many of the 46 countries that signed the Singapore Convention have done so for a simple reason: It will cut costs for their companies that are embroiled in business disputes.

Delegates also told The Straits Times they hoped the convention would spur more use of mediation as a dispute resolution alternative.

"Instead of going through painstaking fights within the legal courts, it's going to really save us money, save us time and save resources," said Ambassador Ramon Custodio, director-general for investment promotion at the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Honduras.

"This means we can put those resources in some other area so that we can develop our country and some day we will have a very developed country as you have in Singapore," he added, noting that Honduras was one of the first countries to ink the convention as it backed mediation over "commercial controversy".

United States Charge d'Affaires A.I. Rafik Mansour said: "We heard from our business community that ensuring the enforcement and recognition of mediated settlement agreements will make it easier for companies to reach settlements and avoid costly litigation or arbitration where it is not needed."



Beijing-based law firm partner Arthur Dong added that the convention will benefit China in giving certainty to businesses that mediated agreements can be enforced. "It will also discourage parties from reneging on their settlement agreements, because if they go back on their word, they may be compelled to comply by the courts."

Malaysian participant, Ms Han Li Meng, said her country's backing for the convention would spur the use of mediation, which "has not really taken off yet".

Senior advocate Sriram Panchu from India said the convention helps create confidence to invest in a country that is a signatory to the pact.

Singapore also came in for praise for its role in making the United Nations treaty a reality.

Among others, Mr Tim Schnabel, a former attorney at the US State Department, said the Republic had not just raised awareness of the convention but also helped push along the negotiations.

He singled out Ms Natalie Morris-Sharma in the chair for her "masterful leadership".

Malaysian participant, Ms Rubini Murugesan, was similarly effusive. "Singapore played a pivotal role over three years of negotiations and earned the right to get the convention named after it," she said.

There were several panel discussions at yesterday's event, including one on multilateralism and international collaboration, which was moderated by veteran diplomat Tommy Koh. The speakers included Judge Xue Hanqin, vice-president of the International Court of Justice; former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa; and Temasek International CEO Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara.

Another discussion touched on the stakeholder consultations in the lead-up to the convention.

Additional reporting by Tham Yuen-C , Adrian Lim and Cara Wong





Signing of the Singapore Convention
Lower rates for copyright dispute mediation
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2019

Businesses and copyright owners who choose to resolve their copyright disputes through mediation will be offered reduced rates, as Singapore tries to position itself as the preferred dispute resolution destination for intellectual property (IP) matters.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos), announcing this yesterday, said the goal is to give those in the creative industries access to more efficient and cost-effective ways to resolve copyright disputes.

Such disputes include those relating to collective management, in which an organisation acting in the interest of rights owners such as artists or authors, helps to collect licence fees, among other things.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), the world governing body for IP rights, will offer the reduced rates to businesses and rights owners through its Arbitration and Mediation Centre.

Currently, it already offers reduced rates to businesses with disputes involving patents, registered designs and trademarks.

The centre charges an administration fee as well as US$2,500 (S$3,460) for 10 hours of mediation and preparation work for disputes involving sums of up to US$250,000. For disputes over larger sums, it typically charges more.

Under the reduced rates, each party involved in the mediation will pay a lower administration fee, as well as $500 for four hours of mediation and preparation work, plus $200 for each additional hour.

Wipo, which has handled arbitration and mediation cases in Singapore since 2010, said 35 per cent of its cases related to copyright issues. They include disputes involving licensing agreements, broadcasting agreements and TV formats, among other things.

Ipos director of hearings and mediation Mark Lim said: "This strategic partnership further enhances Singapore's appeal as the preferred IP dispute resolution destination for innovators and enterprises."



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