Singapore urges Japan to sign new UN pact on mediation

The Japanese principle of wa (harmony) is a key premise in mediation as a means to resolve disputes, Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said in Tokyo yesterday, noting the country's long history with mediation.

He urged Japan to be among the first signatories to a new United Nations treaty on mediation - known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation - that will be inked at an Aug 7 ceremony in the Republic.

The pact aims to make it easier to enforce mediated settlement agreements for high-value, complex, cross-border commercial disputes, which in turn will give businesses and investors greater assurance, he told the Japan Association of Arbitrators (JAA) in an hour-long lecture that was also streamed in Osaka and Nagoya.

"Mediation is highly compatible with Japanese culture and has seen active use within Japan for many years," he said, citing the first article in Prince Shotoku's Constitution, written in the year 604, that read "harmony should be valued, and quarrels should be avoided".

JAA president Akira Kawamura said international mediation "may be more important than arbitration" as a means to solve cross-border disputes in years to come, adding that Japan sees Singapore as a leader in the area of dispute resolution.

Mr Tong is on a three-day official visit to Japan to strengthen bilateral legal ties, during which he will hold round-table discussions with Japanese businesses and law firms.

Yesterday, he met Japan's State Minister of Justice Hiroshi Hiraguchi, with whom he discussed ways to further cooperate on both legal and business sectors.

Singapore has been a world leader in the mediation sector. In 2014, it was the first in the world to set up a dedicated centre for international commercial mediation.

"Japan and Singapore have some commonalities - the 'Asia' way of doing business and the way in which we see rule of law as a pillar of our legal and business industries," Mr Tong told The Straits Times in an interview. "Mediation is a face-saving, time-saving and overall relationship-building way of solving disputes."

He told the JAA lecture that the Singapore Convention will greatly benefit Japan as the world's third-largest economy, given the size of its trade volumes and foreign direct investments, and boost its reputation as a leader in global trade.

Under the convention, the two countries can take the lead in shaping the direction of legal services in the Asia-Pacific, where legal services are expected to grow by 5.5 per cent annually between 2014 and this year, Mr Tong said. This far outpaces the expected global growth rate of 3.3 per cent per annum.

Singapore has been a world leader in the mediation sector. In 2014, it was the first in the world to set up a dedicated centre for international commercial mediation. The Singapore International Mediation Centre now has more than 70 mediators covering over 15 jurisdictions, as well as a panel of more than 70 independent experts. It has handled about 70 cases with a settlement rate of more than 80 per cent, Mr Tong said. Its highest-value dispute was worth over $600 million, he added, and none of the agreements has been breached.

Today, Mr Tong will deliver a keynote speech at the Japan-Singapore International Legal and Dispute Resolution Conference. He will also visit the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore urges Japan to sign new UN pact on mediation'. Print Edition | Subscribe