Singapore set to grow as arbitration powerhouse

Post-pandemic recovery should provide the impetus to propel Singapore as a leading global player in arbitration.
Post-pandemic recovery should provide the impetus to propel Singapore as a leading global player in arbitration.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Singapore's standing as an international arbitration powerhouse is set to grow as it builds on past efforts and global economies recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sounding this upbeat mood, industry players point out that Singapore has clearly entrenched itself as a major dispute resolution centre for Asia, and post-pandemic recovery should provide the impetus to propel Singapore as a leading global player.

"As can be seen from the statistics provided by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) earlier this year, the three biggest foreign users of SIAC are India, the United States and China. All three of these economies are projected to have robust growth in 2021 and beyond, and the level of activities for dispute resolution can only go up," said Mr Chong Yee Leong, Allen & Gledhill's co-head of international arbitration.

"As a dispute resolution centre, both international arbitration and court litigation (and in particular, the Singapore International Commercial Court) should see growth in terms of size and value of cases," he added.

Sharing that view, Oon & Bazul's managing partner Bazul Ashhab said Singapore's meteoric growth in the arbitration space led to the Republic sharing with London the top arbitration seat globally, according to the 2021 White & Case-Queen Mary survey released earlier this year.

SIAC also clinched the top place as the most preferred arbitral institution in the Asia-Pacific and second globally, he added.

"On the back of this stellar achievement, I believe Singapore's arbitration growth will continue, given Singapore's neutrality as an arbitral venue, its back-to-business outlook, and its strong arbitration eco-system," said Mr Ashhab.


Oon & Bazul's managing partner Bazul Ashhab. PHOTO: OON & BAZUL

Mr Cheng Tai-Heng, who runs the Singapore office of leading global law firm Sidley Austin, said that in assessing the bigger picture, including arbitration, "my view is that the deepest legal markets that command the highest rates will for some decades still be in the US; but the growth markets will be in Asia. The US is a stable legal market and not expanding that much compared with Asia.

"The US is the world's largest economy, the largest businesses are there, so the greatest legal needs are there. The capital markets are still the largest in the world, and that leads to more transactions, more financial instruments, more disputes. I think it will remain so for quite a while, especially as long as the US dollar remains the reserve currency of the world."

Mr Cheng, who recently returned from the US to head the firm's Singapore office as co-managing partner, has handled several net-worth cases, including a $250 million investment treaty arbitration dispute currently awaiting judgment between a Singapore group and the Mexican government.


Mr Cheng Tai-Heng runs the Singapore office of leading global law firm Sidley Austin. PHOTO: IAN KACUNGIRA

Separately, SIAC earlier this month announced the appointments of a new chief executive officer and a new registrar as it builds on its arbitration success and bids to move on to the next level.

Ms Gloria Lim, who was previously director of the Ministry of Law's Legal Industry Division, was named CEO. Mr Kevin Nash was appointed registrar last month.

Expressing deep appreciation to outgoing CEO Lim Seok Hui and registrar Delphine Ho, SIAC said: "Seok Hui played an important role during a transformative period in the institution's growth and expansion, enhancing the standing of SIAC in Singapore and internationally.

"During her tenure, SIAC's caseload increased significantly, from 235 cases in 2012 to 1,080 cases in 2020, with parties from over 100 jurisdictions arbitrating disputes at SIAC. Seok Hui also oversaw SIAC's expansion abroad with offices in India, South Korea, China and the United States."

SIAC added that as registrar, Ms Ho played a leadership role in ensuring that SIAC's case management services remain efficient and effective, and fine-tuned many of SIAC's processes and procedures.

SIAC's chairman, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, thanked Ms Lim and Ms Ho, saying: "They both played significant roles in enhancing the international standing and profile of SIAC, and helped it achieve the success it has seen today.

"The board and I look forward to working closely with Gloria and Kevin to take SIAC to the next level, develop new capabilities, and work closely with our international arbitration partners to serve the needs of the global business community."