Speech by Senior Minister of State for Law and Health, Mr Edwin Tong, at the International Commercial & Legal Cooperation Forum in Changsha, China
27 Nov 2019 Posted in Speeches
Mr Shen Deyong, Chairman of the Committee for Social and Legal Affairs of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference
Dr Lu Pengqi, Vice Chairman of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade
Mr Hu Xusheng, Vice Chairman of the Hunan Political Consultative Conference
Mr Qiu Jixing, Vice Mayor of People’s Government of the Changsha City
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good morning to all of you.
I am very happy to be invited to speak this morning in Changsha – a city with rich history, rich culture and known traditions. It is also, I understand, one of the happiest cities in China, and I think for good reasons.
I want to thank the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) for inviting me here today to speak at this year’s International Commercial & Legal Cooperation Forum, and giving me the opportunity to address all of you this morning.
The theme of this Forum is “Mutual Learning and Mutual Benefit (互学互鉴，共进共赢)”. I think all of us in this room will agree with this statement and this theme. Countries need to work together more, to create a better future and prosperity for our own citizens. There is so much that we can learn and share with each other. Multilateralism, working towards a common goal, is really not an option but a necessity today.
Importance of Multilateralism
- Multilateralism is the key to growth in many economies. What does growth mean? Growth means trade, and an inflow of investments and exports. These are all activities that depend on working with each other.
- Just have a look at what happened when countries adopted a trade protectionism approach. Everyone will be familiar with the Great Depression in the 1930s, where countries devalued their own currencies so that exports can be boosted. They also raised their own tariff barriers, hoping to stimulate their own domestic economic activity by reducing imports. These measures can only succeed if other countries do not also respond in the same way. But of course, they did. During that period, global trade shrank by about 65%.
- It was only after the war that countries started to recognise the benefit of a truly multilateral economic system. Developed countries opened up their markets. In return, they benefited from mutual trade and also access to new markets in developing countries for their products and services. Multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), were set up. Multilateral free trade agreements were negotiated and entered into. As a result, global trade and investments increased dramatically. Global GDP grew, and in many countries, this meant that the quality of life improved.
- China is one very good example. China’s reform and opening up in 1978 transformed China into the world’s second largest economy in just 40 years – a very short time for a country of this size and population. This is nothing short of a remarkable feat, and is testament to the organisation and determination of the leaders in China.
Multilateralism and Rule of Law
- The rule of law is central to multilateralism. In a rules-based multilateral system, all countries are equal no matter the size of their economies. This is the rule of law, instead of the rule of power. For small countries like Singapore, where our external trade is 400% of our GDP, the promotion and preservation of the rule of law is in fact critical for our survival.
- We therefore have built very strong rule of law in protecting businesses’ and individuals’ rights, regardless of their socioeconomic status. The laws apply to everyone across the board. For example, Singapore is recognised as having one of the strongest intellectual property (IP) protection regime in the world, and top in Asia. This is important because in today’s world, technology, artificial intelligence, product innovations, new inventions – these ideas in the age of the digital world need to be enhanced, and the people who develop them need to know that they will be protected.
- We also played an active role in the development of international law. A Singaporean, we are very proud to say, chaired the conference that gave birth to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. Another Singaporean, more recently, chaired the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group, which negotiated the UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (today known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation).
- Singapore was very honored to be able to host the Singapore Convention in August this year. We were very proud and priviledged to have hosted so many countries including China, India, Korea and the USA – many of the world’s largest economies. A total of 70 countries came, of which 46 countries signed. Another 5 countries more recently signed, making it 51.
- This strong sense of support for the Singapore Convention of Mediation is, in my view, a very powerful statement showing support for multilateralism. It demonstrated that the establishment of a dispute settlement mechanism – one that is designed to preserve rights and obligations, one that gives parties autonomy to decide on the terms of the settlement of the dispute and to interpret and enforce rules across the different jurisdictions – is fundamental to the proper functioning of a truly multilateral global trading system.
- Like Singapore, China is looking to develop a dispute resolution system – one that is anchored on a strong rule of law foundation, and one that reflects our own characteristics. From what I have seen, in a few short years, much headway has been made by our Chinese counterparts.
- But I believe so much more can be achieved, so much more can be done, and so much more boundaries can be pushed if we work together, cooperate, and leverage each of our complementary strengths and expertise. Let me propose three ways that I feel we can do so.
- First, at the Government-to-Government level. We can work together to strengthen the rule of law and legal systems. We can exchange information on our laws and regulations, and share experiences with each other. Singapore is open to enhance legal cooperation with like-minded countries across a broad range of different matters, including in legal, dispute resolution and the enhancement of IP registration and protection. This in turn will help attract and anchor investors into these countries. On this score, I am very happy that my Ministry will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China in about two weeks’ time. This will enhance, broaden and deepen the cooperation and friendship that we have with China.
- Second, at the institution-to-institution level. We can work together to promote legal, dispute resolution and IP services. In today’s globalised world, businesses are trading and investing cross-border, and transferring knowledge and know-how across different jurisdictions. Projects typically involve multiple parties from different countries, coming from different legal systems, different cultures and different backgrounds. Commercial parties can no longer simply rely on the legal, dispute resolution (whether mediation or arbitration) and IP support in just one country alone. Therefore, to better support our users in Singapore, we have set up three major institutions – the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), and the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) – three different platforms to deal with different types of disputes.
- Third, at the people-to-people level. At the end of the day, it is the people who makes the difference, as they are the ones who provide the services, who need the services, and who uphold the spirit of multilateralism. Therefore, platforms like this, where experts from different countries, with different know-how and expertise come together, provide a unique opportunity for us to share developments in our respective countries, to share ideas and know-how, to learn from each other, and to build networks that will last beyond the two to three days at a conference.
- I am very pleased to say that my Ministry in Singapore will be co-organising the second edition of the Singapore-China International Commercial Dispute Resolution Conference with CCPIT in Singapore in April next year, after a very successful run earlier this year. I would like extend a warm welcome to each one of you to participate, and look forward to hosting all of you in Singapore.
- Before I conclude, I would like to acknowledge the good work done by CCPIT over the years, and the friendship and support that CCPIT has given us over the last few years.
- CCPIT has been very forward-thinking in their approach towards commercial and legal cooperation. They have set up Commercial Law Cooperation Committees with different countries to promote mutual cooperation on commercial law, and to support the development of bilateral economic and trade relations. More recently, they have announced the establishment of an International Commercial Dispute Prevention and Resolution Organisation, bringing together more than 30 countries in this effort. Singapore is very privileged to be part of these efforts.
- CCPIT has also been very supportive of the proposals that we have raised with them, including co-developing a dispute resolution model that is particularly tailored to Asia’s needs, something that adopts the rule of law as the central theme, but uses a very Asian approach to resolving disputes – one that not only allows parties to resolve it on their terms but also one which preserves the longer term relationship.
- We look forward to welcoming you in Singapore next year, and to return your hospitality that you have so kindly and so generously given to us.
- I have seen the programme for the next two days. CCPIT has curated a very comprehensive two-day programme for the participants, and I am sure that everyone here will leave the conference not just with a lot more information and a lot more know-how, but also a lot more new friends.
- Thank you very much, and enjoy the conference.
Last updated on 27 Nov 2019