A landmark United Nations treaty that aims to promote the use of mediation in settling cross-border commercial disputes was signed by 46 countries yesterday, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hailing it as a powerful statement in support of multilateralism.
The Singapore Convention on Mediation, the first UN treaty to be named after Singapore, provides a uniform international framework to enforce mediated agreements. Its aim is to give businesses more confidence in opting for mediation to resolve disputes, ultimately facilitating international trade.
“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 preserve our relationships,” said PM Lee.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat added last night: “The signing of the convention is a clear signal of our commitment to a rules-based international order.”
Singapore was the first to put ink to paper yesterday, followed by some of the biggest economies in the world including the United States, China and India. Delegates from 70 countries gathered in Singapore for the historic occasion, which also saw an orchid named the “Aranda Singapore Convention on Mediation”.
Speaking via video conference at the ceremony, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed PM Lee’s remarks, saying the convention would contribute towards strengthening the rule of law and multilateralism.
Multilateralism has come under stress in recent years from growing inequality brought by globalisation.
PM Lee suggested multilateral institutions should be reformed and brought up to date as the alternative – a world without international rules, where might is right – disadvantages all. “Such a world would be especially challenging for countries like Singapore,” he added.
PM Lee said the convention, drafted and negotiated by a working group chaired by a Singaporean, is the latest example of Singapore’s commitment to the UN and the international community. “We may be a small country, with limited manpower and no natural resources, but nevertheless we do our best to contribute our part.”
The Singapore Convention is seen as the missing third piece in the international dispute resolution enforcement framework.
Awards resulting from arbitration and court judgments are already enforceable across borders under other conventions. While mediation is a less costly and less adversarial option, it has been limited as resulting agreements are only contractually binding.
The Singapore Convention will give the process teeth, with signatory countries required to enforce mediated agreements in their courts.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Stephen Mathias, who declared the treaty open for signature, said the convention would “bring legal certainty for fair settlement of disputes through mediation in the same way (the) New York Convention did for arbitration”.
Senior advocate Sriram Panchu, who was instrumental in developing mediation as part of India’s legal system, said it will also go some way towards creating a climate of confidence when businesses want to invest in a signatory country.
More than 100 delegations, including country representatives and inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, had worked for three years on the treaty, which was named after Singapore in recognition of the key role Singaporeans played in the process. For the treaty to come into force, at least three countries have to sign and ratify it.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, describing the response to it so far as “astonishing”, said Singapore is likely to ratify it fairly quickly. He added: “If it is signed up to by a large number of countries, and it is enforced by a large number of countries, then you can imagine mediation will become very attractive because it is now enforceable. That’s why this 46 as a start is a flying start.”