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Singapore Academy of Law unveils initiatives for convergence of business laws in Asia

Efforts to promote cross-border trade and investment through convergence of Asia’s business laws are gathering momentum. The Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) said today it will host an international conference on legal convergence in Asia and launch the Asian Business Law Institute (ABLI) in January 2016.

The twin initiatives – the conference titled “Doing Business Across Asia: Legal Convergence in an Asian Century,” and the ABLI – are receiving support from some of the region’s leading judiciaries, corporations and law firms, as well as The Ministry of Law, Singapore and the Economic Development Board of Singapore.

The conference, to be held at the Raffles City Convention Centre on 21 and 22 January 2016, has already drawn a slate of top-notch speakers including the Honourable Mr Arun Jaitley, Union Minister of Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting, India; Mr Henri de Castries, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, AXA; Mr Simon Israel, Chairman, SingTel, the Honourable Chief Justice Robert French AC, High Court, Australia; the Honourable Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, GBM, The Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong SAR and the Honourable Senior Judge Zhang Yongjian, Supreme People’s Court, China.

In addition, Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam SC, will deliver the closing address.

The ABLI will initiate, conduct and facilitate research, and produce authoritative texts to guide and support the convergence of Asian commercial laws. It will also serve as a forum for collaboration between judges, lawyers, businessmen, academics and policy-makers in the region.

The SAL’s initiatives are intended as part of the solution to the biggest challenge cited by business leaders in the region. According to a 2013 APEC CEO survey by PwC, respondents cited “inconsistent regulations and standards as the single biggest barrier to their company’s growth in Asia-Pacific.” In a report last year, The Economist magazine also highlighted “legal uncertainty” as “the most serious operational challenge to growing a regional business in the ASEAN region.”

Outlining SAL’s vision on legal convergence, the Academy’s President, the Honourable Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, said: “Asia stands poised at a unique time in history where economic growth and integration will fuel an unprecedented surge in intra-regional and cross-border trade and investment.

“However, there is considerable heterogeneity among Asian legal systems, and while a unified ‘Asian law’ is beyond the realm of possibility in the near future, the time has come to establish common legal norms and practices that will overcome regional differences and pave the way for freer trade and commerce.” Mr Menon believes that Asia can be the frontier for the next phase in the story of the lex mercatoria and “we should prepare ourselves in earnest for this monumental opportunity.”

The lex mercatoria (Latin for “merchant law”) is the body of commercial laws and best practices established by European merchants during the medieval period to overcome differences in European laws and customs. Lex mercatoria precepts are enshrined in many modern international commercial laws and international arbitration. For more of the CJ’s thoughts on lex mercatoria, click here.

On the ABLI, Mr Menon noted: “We will need a centralised forum for these various stakeholders to exchange ideas, information and proposals, in addition to being a repository for their input. It can also represent a common point of contact for other research agencies and international organisations.”

The Chairperson of SAL’s Steering Committee on legal convergence Mrs Lee Suet-Fern, who is also Managing Partner, Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC, said: “We hope the SAL’s initiatives will be the catalyst for a regional movement to promote commercial laws and precepts that will enable business to flourish across borders in Asia.”
“In this regard, there are many issues that the region’s legal and business communities can come together to work on, including identifying the inconsistencies which undermine transnational business, the solutions that are desirable and acceptable, as well as the sort of uniform rules which can apply to cross-border contracts, and how to enforce them.”

Mrs Lee said many of these issues would be discussed during the January conference that is expected to attract top leaders from the business, judiciary, policy and the legal community in the region. “The conference and the establishment of the ABLI are first steps in a long journey but we are excited about the prospects ahead as we believe that the case for legal convergence is a compelling one.”

Among the issues that the ABLI is likely to focus on initially are: enforcement of foreign judgement rules in ASEAN, Australia, China and India; streamlining Asian cross-border small claims procedures, an area particularly relevant to the rapidly growing e-commerce sector; and fleshing out a set of guiding principles relating to Asian data privacy laws.

For more information on the conference, please visit www.legalconvergenceasia.com.

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