Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at Singapore Convention Signing Ceremony and Conference, 7 August 2019.
Ladies and gentlemen
A very good morning and a warm welcome to Singapore.
Today, we have gathered to sign the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation. Singapore is deeply honoured to have been chosen by fellow UN member States to host the signing. And we are especially delighted to have this convention named the Singapore Convention on Mediation.
The Singapore Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly last December. More than 100 delegations, including country representatives and technical experts from observer, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, worked on this convention between 2015 and 2018. The last similar attempt at an international approach to enforce mediation settlements was made in 2002. This was during discussions on the Model Law on International Commercial Conciliation. But at that time no agreement could be reached. Therefore, I congratulate the many delegates and their supporting teams who have worked so hard to make today’s breakthrough possible.
The Singapore Convention allows parties that reach a mediated settlement in an international commercial dispute to enforce the settlement terms in the courts of the signatory countries. This will help advance international trade, commerce and investment. Lengthy commercial disputes can severely disrupt normal business operations. They damage reputations, hurt share prices and make it harder for companies to raise capital. They also dampen the confidence and morale of employees, shareholders and other stakeholders. A robust framework to manage such conflicts can prevent such disputes from escalating unnecessarily or causing unintended consequences.
Today, for cross border disputes, many businesses rely either on arbitration, enforced via the New York Convention, or on litigation. The Singapore Convention on Mediation is the missing third piece in the international dispute resolution enforcement framework. Businesses will benefit from greater flexibility, efficiency and lower costs, while states can enhance access to justice by facilitating the enforcement of mediated agreements.
The Singapore Convention is also a powerful statement in support of multilateralism. Multilateralism is under pressure but the solution is not to abandon it but to improve it. Existing multilateral institutions are not perfect. Many are in need of urgent reform, suffer from a loss of confidence, or have practices and structures that are no longer fit for purpose. But we must recognise that these institutions have collectively brought the world growth and prosperity, and contributed to the peace and security and international order that we have enjoyed for decades. Abandoning them would upend the rules-based world order that we have so painstakingly built up. Instead we need to reform them and bring them up to date. We must make sure that they reflect current economic and political realities, and ready them to deal with new issues created by the progress of technology and globalisation.
The alternative of a world without multilateral institutions and widely accepted international rules, where might is right, disadvantages all countries, big and small. Such a world would be especially challenging for small countries like Singapore. That is why international treaties and the rule of law are especially important to us. Every word makes a difference, and when we sign a treaty, we will rigorously uphold what we have solemnly committed to.
The Singapore Convention on Mediation demonstrates that countries are capable of achieving consensus, with effort, creativity, and leadership. 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 preserving our relationships
I also want to acknowledge the role of the United Nations. Singapore was admitted to the United Nations in September 1965, just a month after we became an independent republic. On that occasion, our first Foreign Minister, Mr S Rajaratnam, assured the General Assembly that Singapore would join other nations in efforts to realise the aims and objectives of the UN Charter, and pledged Singapore’s loyalty and unflinching support to the UN for these efforts. Through these last 54 years, we have stayed true to our promise.
The Singapore Convention on Mediation is the latest example of Singapore’s commitment to the UN and through it, to the international community that we belong to. We may be a small country, with limited manpower and no natural resources, but nevertheless we do our best to contribute our part. Many of you know Professor Tommy Koh, one of our most recognised diplomats. He chaired the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea that negotiated what became the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. A more recent example is Ms Rena Lee, who was elected President of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) last year. Two young women from Singapore were instrumental in turning the Singapore Convention into reality. Ms Natalie Morris-Sharma, who was Chair of the Working Group responsible for negotiating the Convention at UNCITRAL; and Ms Sharon Ong, who headed the Singapore delegation in the negotiations. Singapore is very grateful to them for their efforts.
Our work does not stop here. The signing of the Singapore Convention marks the start of a long-term commitment by Singapore, to promote the Convention and see to its adoption. Later today, Singapore and the UN will sign an MOU on a UNCITRAL Academy here, which will promote the development, understanding and use of international dispute resolution instruments globally. We will also continue our broader efforts to work with friends and partners to advance the cause of justice. Over the years, we have built up a sound and comprehensive system of rules, laws and agreements, and become a trusted Asian base for many businesses. Businesses value the connectivity, predictability, long-term stability, commitment to rule of law and international expertise that they can find in Singapore.
Several other significant initiatives on international dispute settlement are taking place here this week, together with the signing of the Singapore Convention. INSOL International, a worldwide federation of 44 member associations, comprising restructuring and insolvency professionals, launched its first overseas office outside London, in Singapore, to serve as its Asian hub. The American Arbitration Association – International Centre for Dispute Resolution (AAA-ICDR), a leading provider of alternative dispute resolution services for parties in commercial disputes, will open its Asia Headquarters and Case Management Centre in Singapore. The International Bar Association held its inaugural Asia Pacific Arbitration Conference yesterday. Tomorrow, the newly refurbished Maxwell Chambers Suites – the world’s first integrated dispute resolution complex, which houses the largest number of case management offices of dispute resolution institutions worldwide – will have its grand opening. Collectively, these events affirm Singapore’s role as a leading international business and legal centre.
Once again, I would like to welcome all the delegates to Singapore. I congratulate the 46 countries on signing the Singapore Convention, and the other 24 countries who have joined us today to support what the Convention stands for. I wish you a productive conference and an enjoyable stay here. I hope you will find it useful, and will come back to attend the next Singapore Convention Conference, a year from now on 1 September 2020.
Thank you very much.
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