With a recent surge in India-Singapore cooperation in the fields of law, business and trade, India Today spoke exclusively to K Shanmugam, Minister for Law, Singapore. The interview, held on 23 September, came soon after an International Conference on Arbitration was held in Singapore, and an inter-ministerial delegation from Singapore visited India.
“Traditional centers for commercial arbitration were London and the US, which were the centers of business and economy. Now the top five commercial centers are in Asia,” said the minister.
“In the past, the law was developed in London, you had time also. Commerce developed and you had time to look at it and slowly develop rules. Today, the pace of change is exponential. The laws and the frameworks have to be developed at a similar pace. Secondly, it is no longer being done in one place, it is across the world. How do you get countries around the world to come up with common standards? That’s going to be a big challenge,” said Shanmugam.
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“The types of economies are different for different countries. Singapore’s role has been of a trusted neutral party in dispute resolution,” said the minister. “The support that the government reflects is extremely important,” he added.
He also emphasised the role played by international bodies such as the UN and UNCITRAL in ensuring that rules and laws are applied uniformly across countries for commerce.
“I think the big countries, the big economies, will start developing the rules for their own economies and the others may have to look at that and see what works and what doesn’t work and, hopefully, some kind of sensible international framework is developed in the different fields. This requires a lot of international cooperation,” he added.
With commercial and business developments being driven by multiple technology and economic powerhouses, the Singapore minister also told India Today that current progress is “developing faster than the ability of the international community to frame rules.”
“I suspect that India, China and the US will develop their own rules for dealing with the internal economy, but there will also be people who work across jurisdictions who will try and find some commonality. UNCITRAL can play an important role. They bring together people from across the world and say let’s have some sensible mediation rules. So you need a UN-like body to bring people together to formulate rules. But that takes time. Meanwhile, the countries will just have to frame rules and manage themselves,” said the minister.
With respect to International Commercial Arbitration, the minister said that the development of new centers is a “zero sum game” as the development of new centers in Asia would facilitate the growth of business and economy, and Singapore does not see it as a reduction in its role in international commercial dispute resolution. “We are seen as an attractive and neutral party. Singapore is a service center for dispute resolution,” said the minister, adding that the dispute resolution centers in India and China were growing due to the role of their large economies.
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Shanmugam, who had also held the foreign ministry portfolio earlier, said that it was important to make sure that the international law “keeps pace” with commercial and technological developments.
“There was an ICC Survey in 2021, where 83% of the respondents said that before 2020 technology was being underused,” said the law minister, adding that while in key situations in-person meetings were still preferred, technology such as artificial intelligence was now being used to sort through volumes of documents and help with management of disputes by framing issues and doing discovery of documentation.
Singapore has been playing a key role in international dispute resolution and development of Arbitration and Mediation Centers in other Asian countries. The Singapore law minister also emphasised that due to the size of their economies, the role of Beijing and Mumbai-based arbitration is growing, while Dubai and Seoul are also developing as centres for international commercial dispute resolution.
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