Hong Kong and Singapore have long been fierce rivals for the title of Asia’s leading financial centre, and they are now also battling to become Asia’s dominant seat for international commercial arbitrations, the leading form of international dispute resolution. This rivalry is personified by their competing arbitral institutions, the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), established in 1985, and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, established in 1991.
While the ICC’s International Court of Arbitration, based in Paris and established in 1923, pioneered modern international arbitration and remains the gold standard upon which all other institutions are still judged, Asia’s upstart arbitral institutions are rapidly gaining on their predecessor, with the SIAC experiencing the most rapid growth recently.
Much like Europe’s economy, while the ICC is aging gracefully, the growth of arbitration at the ICC has for all essential purposes plateaued, with 796 Requests for Arbitration filed at the ICC in 2011, a three-case increase from the 793 new arbitrations in 2010, but a slight decrease from the 817 new arbitrations filed in 2009.
Meanwhile, the number of new arbitration cases surged at the SIAC by 25% to 235 in 2012 from 188 in 2011, and the HKIAC handled 293 new arbitration disputes in 2012. In terms of sheer numbers, the HKIAC’s and the SIAC’s combined caseload of 528 new cases seems likely to outstrip the number of new cases at the ICC in a matter of years. If the China International Economic & Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC)’s arbitrations are also considered, the combined Asian caseload already dwarfs that found at the ICC, as CIETAC’s caseload grew from 200 annual disputes in the 1990’s to over 1200 new arbitrations per year today.
Below, the BBC considers the reasons for the surge in arbitrations in Asia, which shows no signs of abating: