As Asean moves towards greater economic integration, there is much that the legal community can do to help with the process.
In his keynote address at the Asean Law Conference yesterday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "Indeed the law is one of the keys to unlocking opportunities in our region.
"The rule of law enhances consistency in outcomes, socio-economic stability, as well as transparency and accountability between the public and private sectors."
But it will not be easy to do this at the regional level as "different states have different priorities and face different socio-economic realities. Asean, in particular, has a combined population of more than 600 million, with immense diversity in legal traditions and systems".
He highlighted laws governing commercial contracts as an area for convergence.
"With an increasing occurrence of cross-border projects and transactions governed by contracts, meaningful convergence in this area will reap rich benefits for the parties involved," Mr Heng said.
The growth of international commercial arbitration is evidence that commercial contract law is an area which lends itself "particularly well to convergence across national borders", he added.
In his welcome speech, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon also underscored the importance of legal convergence as a way to improve the lives of Asean citizens.
Citing a speech he made in 2016, CJ Menon noted that legal uncertainty, generated by diverse laws, is one of the greatest obstacles to trade and investment in Asia.
"This uncertainty generates significant transactional costs and acts as a fetter on investment, consumption and growth," he added.
So, there is much for the legal community to do, and efforts to promote legal convergence are worthwhile and significant, he said.
"Economic integration will remain an idea until and unless the hard and prosaic work is done to translate it into legislation," CJ Menon said.
Examples include laws that eliminate trade tariffs, change Customs procedures and establish a consistent approach for addressing common commercial disputes, he added.
The law guards the promise of economic integration, CJ Menon said, adding that "it is only by the creation of a stable system of rules and norms that the rights and benefits secured... may be advanced and protected, upheld and enforced".
"The rule of law secures the promise of economic integration for all, and not just the privileged few," CJ Menon said.
According to the latest Queen Mary University of London International Arbitration Survey released in May this year, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre is the most preferred arbitral institution in Asia. It is the third most preferred seat worldwide, after London and Paris.
On the sidelines of yesterday's conference, the Singapore Management University and Singapore Judicial College announced they will jointly offer a new Master of Laws in Judicial Studies from August next year.
The new postgraduate degree programme is designed to provide advanced training for serving judges and judicial aspirants both in and outside of Singapore.