In the past few weeks, Russia has abolished its main commercial court and Singapore has announced its plan to open one. The events appear to be unrelated, but it seems likely that the ripples from each may reach the other.
On November 28, the Financial Times printed a headline that read “Moscow Abolishes Commercial Court.” The paper reported that the “Federal Council, the upper house of parliament, yesterday changed the constitution to allow the merger of the Supreme Court of Arbitration into the Supreme Court.” The move was not uncontroversial with a reported “80 law firms oppos[ing] the changes in an open letter.” The letter was directed towards fears of politically-motivated reprisals at businesspeople like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a jailed “business magnate turned politician” (who, incidentally was recently pardoned by President Vladimir Putin – according to CNN).
Meanwhile, on December 3, Agence France-Presse reported that “Singapore to Open New Commercial Court to Leverage Arbitration Strengths.” The Singaporean government has recognized that the economies of Southeast Asia are booming, with GDP for the region likely to triple by 2020. Certainly, the volume of disputes and the need for prompt resolution will see commensurate growth. And Singapore is already strong in this field. The December 3 story reports that “The Singapore International Arbitration Centre, set up in 1991, last year handled 235 disputes worth US$2.87 billion….It is considered the fourth most preferred arbitration institution in the world, after similar bodies in Paris, London and New York, according to a survey by international law firm White & Case.” You can read the whole report here.
Surely trade between Russia and Asia will rise as Asia’s economy continues to grow and given the proximity of Russia’s natural resources and Asia’s need for them. Will some Russian business disputes end up in Singaporean arbitration? Only time will tell, but it would be no surprise if the closing of one arbitration court will result in new business for the one that’s opening or another someplace else.