The year was 1965. Singapore, a tiny island in Southeast Asia, 0.01 percent the size of the United States, just found its independence. Some 50 years later, the former British colony, lacking any significant natural resources, remarkably transformed into an economic colossus. Widely considered as the twentieth century’s most successful development story, Singapore is now one of the most modern and cosmopolitan places in the world.
Amid this burgeoning economic development, in a relatively short period of time, the small city-state, a veritable red dot on the world map, has emerged as the most preferred seat of arbitration in the world (alongside London), and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) is now ranked as the world’s second most preferred institution (Queen Mary University of London and White & Case, 2021 International Arbitration Survey: Adapting Arbitration to a Changing World). Singapore and SIAC have grown together, almost in perfect harmony, on the strength of the unique Singapore “recipe” for resolving disputes:
- Singapore is independent, neutral, transparent, and corruption-free.
- Singapore offers modern, “best-in-class” arbitration legislation that is regularly updated to meet and exceed global best practices.
- The Singapore Supreme Court, as the curial law court for arbitrations seated in Singapore, is composed of internationally recognized jurists who possess sophisticated knowledge of the arbitral process. As articulated by the Singapore Court of Appeal, “[a]n unequivocal judicial policy of facilitating and promoting arbitration has firmly taken root in Singapore” (Tjong Very Sumito and Others v. Antig Investments Pte Ltd  SGCA 41).
- The growing Singapore Arbitration Bar balances local and international arbitration specialists with expertise in commercial and investment arbitration.
- Maxwell Chambers, the world’s first integrated alternative dispute resolution complex, provides facilities for physical, hybrid, and virtual hearings.
- Singapore has positioned itself as a “one-stop shop” for dispute resolution services with SIAC for international arbitration, the Singapore International Mediation Centre for international mediation, and the Singapore International Commercial Court for international litigation. Disputes of all shapes and sizes can be resolved with equal efficiency on Singapore’s shores.
Working from this platform, SIAC has grown at a rate that few could have anticipated. SIAC opened its doors in 1991 and received just two cases in its first year of operation. In the barnstorming 30 years that followed, SIAC moved from a regional institution to a global institution of standing with one of the highest caseloads in the world. In 2020, SIAC received a record 1,080 new cases (which included two sets of related cases involving 261 cases and 145 cases), with a total sum in dispute of US$8.5 billion. This represents a 125 percent increase from the 479 new cases filed in 2019 and the first time SIAC’s caseload has crossed the 1,000 mark.
Throughout this period of growth, SIAC has prioritized the user experience and worked to provide efficient and cost-effective arbitration services to the global business community. A 2018 study found SIAC to be the “most cost-competitive option for both sole-arbitrator and three-arbitrator cases,” and “for three-arbitrator cases in particular, SIAC remains significantly cheaper than [the London Court of International Arbitration] and [the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce] where the costs extend to six-digit figures” (CMS Holborn Asia and Society of International Law (Singapore), Costs and Duration: A Comparison of the HKIAC, LCIA, SCC and SIAC Studies (Mar. 19, 2018)). The study mentioned that the median time for an arbitration under the SIAC Rules 2013 is less than 12 months. The study concluded that SIAC is “the most efficient in comparison to the other arbitral institutions.”
SIAC’s Global Reach
In the past five years, parties from more than 100 jurisdictions have selected SIAC as the preferred forum to resolve their disputes. In 2020, 94 percent of SIAC’s case filings were international in nature, spanned a range of seats and governing laws, and were heard before arbitrators from 27 jurisdictions. SIAC arbitration awards have been enforced by the courts of Australia, China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam, among other New York Convention signatories. As a global institution, SIAC administers a wide band of disputes, including international trade, corporate and commercial, construction and engineering, maritime and shipping, aviation, banking and financial services, commodities, energy, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, hospitality and travel, insurance and reinsurance, intellectual property and information technology, media and broadcasting, mining, real estate, regulatory, sports, technology and science, and telecommunications.
The sixth edition of the SIAC Rules was published on August 1, 2016. Since their promulgation, more than 2,000 cases have been conducted pursuant to and administered by SIAC in accordance with the SIAC Rules. The SIAC Rules were drafted and designed to ensure the efficient, expeditious, and enforceable resolution of disputes, and they contain innovative provisions on emergency arbitration, expedited procedure, multiple contracts and consolidation, joinder, and the early dismissal of claims and defenses. Under the SIAC Rules, the seat is “delocalized” and parties are free to choose the laws that will apply to the arbitration. SIAC also offers a “scrutiny” process whereby every award must be reviewed and approved prior to issuance. By agreement of the parties, SIAC also administers cases under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules.
In addition to the resolution of commercial disputes, SIAC has received an increasing number of cases involving states, state-controlled entities, and intergovernmental organizations. At the same time, the Singapore courts have shown their ability to deal with the complex issues arising out of investment arbitration with a trilogy of decisions in Maldives Airports Co Ltd and another v. GMR Malé International Airport Pte Ltd  SGCA 16, Sanum Investments Limited v. The Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic  SGCA 57, and Swissbourgh Diamond Mines (Pty) Ltd and others v. Kingdom of Lesotho  SGCA 81. Against this backdrop, SIAC was the first commercial institution to release a specialized set of rules for the conduct of investment arbitration. The SIAC Investment Arbitration Rules 2017 (SIAC IA Rules) aim to leverage SIAC’s commercial expertise and reputation for efficiency to simplify and streamline the investment arbitration process. In terms of structure and construction, the SIAC IA Rules apply by agreement and are not subject to additional jurisdictional criteria such as a qualifying “investor” or “investment,” subject to any requirements in the underlying treaty, statute, or other instrument. Other key highlights include a default list procedure for the appointment of the sole or presiding arbitrator, an opt-in mechanism for the appointment of an emergency arbitrator, an efficient procedure for challenges to arbitrators, early dismissal of claims and defenses, submissions by non-disputing parties, express provisions on third-party funding, and discretionary publication of key information relating to the dispute.
SIAC is steered by a board of directors chaired by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, one of the most renowned litigation and arbitration practitioners in Asia, and the chief executive officer, Lim Seok Hui. The SIAC Court of Arbitration consists of eminent arbitration practitioners from around the world, six of whom are from the Americas. Gary Born leads the SIAC Court of Arbitration as president, with the assistance of two vice presidents, Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull, who sits in Singapore, and Lucy Reed, who is based in New York. The president and the SIAC court decide procedural matters under the SIAC Rules and have oversight of SIAC’s case management. The SIAC Secretariat, led by Delphine Ho and Kevin Nash, handles the day-to-day administration of all cases filed with SIAC. The secretariat is composed of 16 international dispute lawyers who are qualified in both common-law and civil law jurisdictions and speak more than 10 languages.
SIAC has added to its global profile by extending its footprint into the Western Hemisphere with a view to offering “on the ground” services to U.S. parties and Latin American parties. In the past five years, American parties have consistently ranked among SIAC’s top foreign users and reached 545 parties in 2020. Counterparties in U.S.-related cases include parties from SIAC’s top 10 foreign users, such as India, Indonesia, Hong Kong SAR, Thailand, and Vietnam. SIAC also sees high-growth opportunities in Latin America on account of the increasing and dynamic trade corridor between Asia-Pacific and Latin America. To date, SIAC has handled cases involving parties from Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Uruguay.
Since its launch in December 2020, and following the appointment of former SIAC Counsel Adriana Uson (Head (Americas)) and Eugenio Gomez-Chico (Deputy Head (Americas)), SIAC Americas has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from arbitration stakeholders in the Americas. SIAC hopes that its New York office will serve as a springboard to further promote SIAC’s world-class dispute resolution services and foster deeper ties with users in North America and Latin America, who will benefit from real-time access to SIAC.
With the Case Management Team in Singapore and five offices operating around the world—namely, Mumbai; Seoul; Shanghai; Gujarat, India (GIFT City); and New York—SIAC stands ready to work with its global user base to resolve their disputes at any time and in any part of the world.
Dr. Michael Hwang SC is a senior counsel and chartered arbitrator with Michael Hwang Chambers LLC. Adriana Uson is Head (Americas) at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.
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