Hong Kong’s Chief Executive recently gave a speech at the International Dispute Resolution Conference 2019 where she noted that Hong Kong is well-known for being a leading international dispute resolution centre in the Asia Pacific.
The theme of the conference is New Era of Global Collaboration – a timely theme, for the global community, is in need of further collaboration more than ever to tackle the daunting challenges faced by the world.
Uneven growth, diverging trade policies, financial instability and trade and investment disputes are rife worldwide. An increase in international trade and investment disputes seems to be inevitable given the growth in cross-border economic activities and transactions, especially in Asia.
Buoyed by domestic demand, Asia’s GDP is expected to grow 6.1% a year on average between now and 2023. Hong Kong is taking full advantage of that growth.
Hong Kong, as a founding member of the World Trade Organization and a staunch supporter of free trade, would unequivocally welcome trade growth. The key will be effectively managing and settling the increasing number of disputes that come with it. In this regard, conventional litigation alone will not prove sufficient.
Arbitration, given its established international conventions, rules and norms, has long been used to settle international disputes. And mediation is gradually sharing arbitration’s spotlight in international dispute resolution. Mediation’s attractions are many. It works to achieve an amicable resolution, given that settlements must be reached voluntarily. And that, of course, is conducive to maintaining business relationships among the parties involved.
That said, the lack of an effective method for enforcing mediated agreements has been an impediment to its international development.
In that regard, the CE noted that 2018 saw the approval of the Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation and its subsequent adoption by the United Nations General Assembly.
The mediation convention, with its enhanced enforceability, is expected to boost mediation, particularly investment mediation, as a global means of dispute resolution.
HK dedicated to mediation
Hong Kong is actively preparing for that reality, providing dedicated training for investment mediators. The first Investment Law & Investor-State Mediator Training in Asia took place here last October. More than 50 dispute resolution practitioners and government officials from Asia and beyond took part.
The Hong Kong economic system is no less attractive. It maintains a free-market economy, offering a simple and low tax regime and a level playing field for companies. The Heritage Foundation has named Hong Kong the world’s freest economy for the past 25 years in a row. Another institute has also consistently ranked the region the first in economic freedom.
I&T a priority
While Hong Kong is building on its traditional strengths, and it is also developing new ones. In particular, innovation and technology are a policy priority of the HKSAR Government; Hong Kong is catching up quickly on that front.
The region is encouraging the application of technology in almost every aspect of its economy and society, including justice for cross-border disputes.
A representative from the HKSAR Department of Justice is chairing a Working Group in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which has developed a framework for the online resolution of cross-border, business-to-business disputes. It will cut costs and overcome the geographical distance between the parties involved. It will also promote the use of dispute-resolution services internationally.
To support APEC’s work, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) here are creating an electronic Business Related Arbitration & Mediation system, or eBRAM in short.
eBRAM is being developed as a secure and cost-effective deal-making and dispute-resolution online service for cross-border commercial and trade disputes, including those relating to projects under the Belt & Road Initiative. The HKSAR Government is providing close to US$20 million to support eBRAM’s development and initial operation.
It is hoped that eBRAM will facilitate business operations and achieve better access to justice by providing easily accessible and affordable dispute resolution services.
In addition, the HKSAR Government is working to demonstrate Hong Kong’s unique competitiveness under the “one country, two systems” principle in addressing the service need of various jurisdictions with different legal traditions.
Hong Kong is determined, and the Government is committed, to Hong Kong’s continuing rise as a centre for international legal and dispute-resolution services.