As Asia continues to thrive, domestic companies are increasingly venturing outside local borders to fuel their desires for expansion. This is not without its perils, as many companies are getting into bumps and scrapes abroad. In many cases, companies are turning to arbitration as a cheaper, quicker and a more private alternative to litigation.
So, where are companies heading to settle their disputes? Hong Kong and Singapore have long been the two Asian seats of choice written into arbitration clauses. “More blue water has been created between Hong Kong and Singapore, and the rest,” says a market observer. But the battle for supremacy between the two jurisdictions rages on. Practitioners point out that Singapore is gaining ground, partly due to clients’ perception of Hong Kong’s association with China. However, this is not to say that Hong Kong is on the decline. The number of arbitrations in the territory is increasing, as the city transforms into a hub for China-related disputes.
Singapore continues to consolidate its position as a popular seat for international arbitration, with Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) matters on the rise. Market sources point towards the huge influx of Indian parties flooding to the country to conduct their arbitrations under SIAC rules, while others note the diversity of cases that have been handled in the last year. Foreign companies are increasingly willing to instruct Singapore counsel in relation to investments around the region; evidence that the government’s efforts to push Singapore to the forefront of arbitration are paying off. Lawyers also report a marked uptick in the number of international firms that are arriving in the country, and including international arbitration as part of their offering.
Practitioners are noting a resurgence of sorts for the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC), an arbitral institution with a stacked caseload. In the past, the commission has suffered from a reputational problem. But efforts are now being made to improve its image. CIETAC’s new arbitration rules came into force on May 1 this year; a move much welcomed by the international community.
Similar to China, Japanese and Korean companies are finding themselves in a position of strength. While this has resulted in more arbitration, these companies are increasingly finding themselves at the other end of the table; as claimants.
Practitioners in Korea are keeping a close eye on foreign firms that are knocking on Seoul’s doors. Opinion is split over the effects the entry of international players will have on the market. One camp believes that there will be a general focus on outbound investments and international arbitrations because foreign lawyers can only give advice regarding their own countries and international law for the first five years. Others believe that this has always been the case with international arbitration, the only difference being that now foreign firms will have an office on the ground. Although many firms have applied to open an office in Seoul, most have not announced plans to have arbitration specialists on the ground.
Hopping across to India, several significant trends have defined the last year. Grabbing the headlines was an appeal by the Bar Council of India, currently sitting in the Supreme Court. The appeal focuses on the question of whether foreign lawyers can be debarred from coming to India and conducting arbitration proceedings. Practitioners in both India and abroad are following the progress of this appeal quite closely, as it may well be the deciding factor in whether India emerges as a centre for arbitration. Other developments include a recent confirmation of China by the Indian government under the New York Convention, ensuring that arbitral awards passed in Hong Kong and the mainland can now be enforced in India alongside domestic judgments.
In all, it has been an undeniably busy 12 months, and it is safe to say that the rest of the year will see arbitration lawyers in the region continue to be inundated with work. Stay tuned for our continuing coverage of the arbitration marketplace in upcoming issues…
The ALB research team spoke to a wide variety of lawyers and clients who were drawn from firm submissions, our own resources, and market suggestions. All interviews were off the record, confidential, and conducted entirely for research purposes.
Our rankings are based on the following metric:
• Key clients and client feedback
• Firm’s visibility and profile in the marketplace
• Volume/complexity/size of work
• Presence across Asia
Information was drawn from the firm’s submissions, lawyer interviews, client interviews, and peer commentary from the marketplace.
The arbitration rankings are divided into tiers, with the first tier identifying the strongest arbitration firms across Asia.
Below the tiers, ALB has further identified firms that are the “ones to watch”. These are practices that are making a push in the market, and are being recognised for the quality of their work.
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