US, China set to sign Singapore Convention for trade dispute mediation

US, China set to sign Singapore Convention for trade dispute mediation

K Shanmugam Singapore Convention July 29, 2019
Home Affairs and Law Minister at a press conference on the Singapore Convention on Jul 29, 2019.

SINGAPORE: An international United Nations (UN) trade dispute resolution treaty named after Singapore will officially open for signature on Aug 7, and economic powerhouses the United States and China have indicated they will sign it.

The treaty, known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation, will allow countries to enforce mediated settlements across borders, a piece of the mediation puzzle that has so far been missing. 

Currently, while mediation is an option for countries involved in cross-border trade disputes, their hands are tied if one party does not honour the settlement. 

Mediation is typically done by a neutral party, who will be trained to bring the dispute to a resolution. Other options are arbitration and litigation. 

Also known as the UN Convention on International Settlements Agreements Resulting from Mediation, the treaty was named after the city-state to recognise its role in developing and negotiating it. 

Mr Shanmugam said on Monday (Jul 29) that the two largest economies in the world have indicated they will sign it, which shows that they accept that the convention is a “very important” one.

He was speaking to reporters at a briefing held by the Law Ministry to announce that more than 50 countries will gather in Singapore for the opening. Countries that will be attending include Japan, Australia and Vietnam.

“These are large economies, they have they have very big investments overseas and I think they understand the significance of making sure that there are international rules-based mechanisms for dealing with disputes,” he said. 

They are among about 25 countries that have indicated that they will sign the treaty, he said. It is a “very good number”, he said. 

The New York Convention on Arbitration, which now has more than 150 signatories, had 10 initially. A treaty needs at least three countries to sign and ratify it for it to come into force.

He added that the number of countries that have confirmed their attendance, 54 as at Sunday, is “exceptional”, given that it has only been six months since the UN passed a resolution on the convention.

Officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MinLaw and other agencies have been visiting many countries, telling them about the importance of this treaty, and encouraging them to sign, he said. 

“Countries are not going to sign just because we asked them. They’ve got to see value for them,” he said. 

Normally, the internal process in each country takes a very long time, usually more than a year, often several years,  so the fact that so many countries have lent support within six months is "very encouraging", Mr Shanmugam said.

The treaty took three years to develop and negotiate, and comes after past failed attempts.

The Singapore Convention Signing Ceremony and Conference will be part of a series of related events which will take place during Singapore Convention Week from Aug 2 to Aug 8. 

Other events include the opening of the expanded Maxwell Chambers, which was specifically built for dispute resolution. 

Source: CNA/ja(hm)

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