On 17 October 2011, the Attorney-General, Mr Sundaresh Menon, SC, delivered the keynote speech at the Pacific Rim Advisory Council International Conference which was hosted by Rodyk. In his speech, entitled “Public International Law – A Requirement For Every Private Lawyer”, the Attorney-General spoke about the growing importance of public international law to commercial lawyers, focusing on three key areas:-

Investment treaties and investor-state arbitration

Bilateral investment treaties (“BIT”), other international investment treaties and investment chapters in free trade agreements potentially offer protection for foreign investors in dealings with host States. Where government action adversely affects a client’s commercial interest, a commercial lawyer needs to consider the viability of imposing liability on a State for breach of BIT obligations through investor-state arbitrations.

International trade law

Many States, through their membership of the World Trade Organisation (“WTO”) or by entry into Free Trade Agreements (“FTA”), have acceded to international norms regulating cross-border trade of goods and services. A commercial lawyer with a proper understanding of public international law should be able to assist a client in identifying any failure by the State to properly give effect to these norms or if it passes WTO/FTA-inconsistent regulations. Recourse could involve challenging the relevant authorities to pass compliant regulations or, if this fails, lobbying the client’s home State to take action against the errant State under the WTO dispute resolution mechanism.

International human rights

The United Nations Human Rights Council, increasing its focus on transnational corporations and international business enterprises, has developed a framework making corporations responsible in avoiding infringing the rights of others and addressing adverse impacts of their corporate activities. The Attorney-General suggested commercial lawyers should prepare for the integration of these “soft norms” into legal requirements of corporate responsibility and accountability, which may come sooner than most imagine.

The Attorney-General warned against the continued perception of commercial law as the preserve of the black letter lawyer and he ended his speech with the promise that the practice of law will become more challenging, complex, international and ultimately more exciting than at any previous time in history.

The full text of the Attorney-General’s speech can be viewed at:- http://www.agc.gov.sg/documents/Pacific_Rim_Advisory_Council_Conf_171011.pdf