Recently released figures show that SIAC has cemented its place as the hub of arbitration in Asia. Supported by a trusted and stable legal system, state-of-the-art infrastructure and Singapore’s continuing significant economic growth, SIAC has made the transition from a local-based forum for cross-border disputes to an international arbitral institution with a global reach.
A boom year for SIAC
In its 2012 Annual Report, SIAC’s popularity as an international arbitration forum was exhibited by a marked 25% increase in the number of new arbitrations commenced. The number of new cases was 235 compared with 188 for 2011, continuing SIAC’s trend of growth. In 2008 less than 100 new arbitrations were commenced meaning the Centre has seen a growth in use of over 200% over the last five years. SIAC is now the second largest arbitration centre in the world, beaten only by the ICC.
The total value of claims filed by SIAC also doubled from 1.3 billion Singapore dollars in 2011 to 3.6 billion Singapore dollars (almost £1.9 billion) in 2012. This includes SIAC’s largest ever single claim at a value of 1.5 billion Singapore dollars. But even removing that large claim from the 2012 listings, the average value of a SIAC claim was also up 28% to 9 million Singapore dollars (£4.7 million).
SIAC interestingly reported that 73% of the new claims filed in 2012 arose from contracts executed between 2009 and 2012, showing that the appetite for arbitration in the region is healthy. It is apparent that SIAC’s popularity continues to be supported by Singapore’s modern arbitration laws and arbitrationfriendly courts as shown in the recent Singapore High Court decision of Astro Nusantara International BV and others v PT Ayunda Prima Mitra and others  SGHC 212 where attempts to invoke jurisdictional grounds for setting aside an Award at enforcement were refused.
SIAC also boasts first-class infrastructure for its arbitration at Maxwell Chambers in Singapore which opened in 2010 as a fully integrated dispute resolution complex with 14 custom-designed and fully equipped hearing rooms as well as 12 preparation rooms.
Reasons to be cheerful?
The 2012 figures also show that SIAC is expanding its reach beyond the region. It remains a hub for trade disputes in South Asia, with most parties using the Centre coming from Singapore, China and India. However, it is interesting to note that the fourth country of origin in that list was the United States.
The global reach of SIAC has also broken new ground in 2013 with the opening of its first overseas office in Mumbai. The purpose of the office is to promote Singapore as a seat of arbitration, particularly for Indian companies which, as noted above, ranked third in the list of origin of parties using SIAC in 2012. India is also Singapore’s 10th largest trade partner and the Centre is clearly benefiting from the growth in trade with their subcontinent neighbours.
There is also talk of SIAC opening an office in Seoul, with a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Seoul International Dispute Resolution Centre in December 2012 and the possibility of an office in the Gulf to follow. Taking these developments together, it is clear that SIAC is continuing to work on positioning itself as an international arbitration centre that appeals beyond the South Asia region.
Some of the increase in the number of SIAC matters will of course have been as a result of Singapore’s substantial economic growth which has seen a peak increase of 15% in 2010 and an average of at least 5% since 2008, providing an attractive destination for foreign investment and trade. However, equally important are Singapore’s extremely strong legal and political systems which offer stability and certainty to parties using its dispute resolution processes, with Singapore now ranked 5th in the world for neutrality on the World Corruption Index. To put that into context, the United Kingdom is ranked 17th, the United States 19th and China 80th.
Features and new Rules
SIAC arbitrations are administered and managed by its Registrars who are appointed from around the world. There is a presumption for a single arbitrator to be agreed by the parties or appointed by SIAC, with a panel of three arbitrators only being appointed if the parties agree to do so or if SIAC decides a panel is necessary. The SIAC Rules are generally based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Rules and include a provision for the appointment of an emergency arbitrator in the event urgent relief is required at very short notice. Arbitrators are required to issue a draft Award within 45 days of the close of proceedings.
SIAC issued new Rules in 2013 which came into force on 1 April and apply to all arbitrations that are commenced after that date unless the parties agree otherwise. The new Rules give greater flexibility for SIAC’s administrative processes as well as increased certainty for the parties wanting to obtain and enforce SIAC Awards.
The 2013 Rules bring a new governance structure into place with a new Court of Arbitration formed to administer cases, and oversee arbitral appointments and the removal of arbitrators, acting in much the same way as the ICC Court of Arbitration and the LCIA Court.
Registrars are also given wider powers and can now extend or shorten the time limits in the Rules as well as determine “substantial compliance” for valid Notices of Arbitration. Also, Registrars can now decide whether a challenge to SIAC’s jurisdiction on the basis of the validity of the underlying arbitration agreement should go to the Court of Arbitration for prima facie determination.
The arbitrators themselves have been given wider powers of inspection and can now order that property or items be made available for that purpose. They can also now include the cost of arbitration as part of an Award and can publish an Award and name the parties without their consent.
SIAC decisions have also been given greater weight, with any decision of the Registrar, Court or President being final and binding, and all rights to appeal to any State Court or judicial authority waived by the parties.
Strength to strength
The 2012 figures, the 2013 Rules and the move into new markets show that international arbitration in Singapore has come a long way in the last five years. In positioning itself as a global hub for arbitration at the centre of the fast-growing economies in South Asia, supported by internationally trusted legal and political systems, SIAC will no doubt continue to go from strength to strength.