SINGAPORE: Forty-six countries, including the United States and China, signed a new international treaty on mediation named after Singapore on Wednesday (Aug 7) - which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described as a "powerful statement in support of multilateralism".
The new treaty will enable the enforcement of mediated settlement agreements among the signatory countries.
Singapore, represented by Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam, was the first signatory of the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, also known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation, on Wednesday.
More than 1,500 delegates from around the world attended the Singapore Convention Signing Ceremony and Conference, co-organised by the Singapore Ministry of Law and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.
Speaking at the event held at Shangri-La Hotel, Mr Lee said that the treaty, which he described as a “breakthrough”, demonstrates that countries are capable of achieving consensus with effort, creativity and leadership.
"The Singapore Convention is also a powerful statement in support of multilateralism," said Mr Lee, who added that the treaty would help advance international trade, commerce and investment at a time when multilateralism was under pressure.
Mr Lee said that while many existing multilateral institutions were in need of urgent reform, suffer from a loss of confidence, or have practices and structures that were no longer fit for purpose, the solution was not to abandon multilateralism, but to improve it.
"We must recognise that these institutions have collectively brought the world growth and prosperity, and contributed to the peace, security and international order we have enjoyed over decades," he said.
The alternative of a world without multilateral institutions and widely accepted international rules where "might is right" disadvantages all countries, and would be especially challenging for countries like Singapore, he added.
"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," he said.
"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."
THE "MISSING THIRD PIECE"
Mr Lee called the Singapore Convention on Mediation the “missing third piece” in the international dispute resolution enforcement framework, as today, for cross border disputes, many businesses rely either on arbitration, enforced via the New York Convention, or on litigation.
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, Mr Lee said.
The Singapore Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly last December. More than 100 delegations, including country representatives and technical experts, worked on the convention between 2015 and 2018.
"Lengthy commercial disputes can 'severely disrupt' normal business operations, damage reputations, hurt share prices and make it harder for companies to raise capital, and dampen the confidence and morale of employees, shareholders and other stakeholders," Mr Lee said.
"A robust framework to manage such conflicts can prevent such disputes from escalating unnecessarily or causing unintended consequences."
“EFFECTIVE MECHANISM” FOR ENFORCEMENT
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Stephen Mathias, who also attended the event, said uncertainty surrounding the enforcement of settlement agreements was identified as a main obstacle to the greater use of mediation.
Calling the treaty “innovative”, Mr Mathias echoed Mr Lee's remarks and said that it was what was missing in the international framework for dispute settlement.
“The convention establishes mediation as a credible and effective path for commercial parties, to not only resolve commercial disputes, but to preserve their long-term relationships,” he said.
By unifying the rules related to enforcement, the convention provides for clearer and simpler mechanisms on enforcement, he said.
He added that the convention would “undoubtedly” enhance the use of mediation, and therefore foster access to justice.
The convention is the first in the field to bridge legal systems and reflect a worldwide consensus beyond cultural differences, he said.
Among the 46 initial signatories for the convention - which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly last December - are South Korea, India and Brunei. A treaty needs at least three countries to sign and ratify it for it to come into force.
“It is our hope that many states will adopt the Singapore Convention on Mediation and thereby contribute to further strengthening the rule of law, the development of international trade, and sustainable development in all regions,” said Mr Mathias.