UN members sign mediation convention to settle trade disputes

Its aimed at giving businesses greater confidence to settle international disputes through mediation

UN Legal Affairs Assistant Secretary-General, Stephen Mathias

Members of the United Nations on Wednesday signed the Singapore Convention on Mediation, an agreement it hopes will make it easier to settle cross-border commercial disputes and stabilise trade relationships, at a time when trade tensions between world's two biggest economies - the US and China - are escalating.

The UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, its official title, was signed in Singapore by 46 UN members, including the United States and China. The aim is to have a global framework that will give businesses greater confidence to settle international disputes through mediation rather through arbitration and litigation, which may involve long and drawn-out legal proceedings.

 “This will help advance international trade, commerce and investment,” said Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the signing ceremony. “Today, a group of states have come together to recommit ourselves to multilateralism and to declare that we remain open for business.”

Mediation is already used to settle commercial disputes in jurisdictions like the United States and the United Kingdom but it is not globally accepted. It is hoped the convention will improve the credibility of mediation. For this to be achieved, the treaty has to be ratified by at least three countries, which will then pave the way for cross-border mediated settlements to be recognized in domestic courts.

“Uncertainty surrounding the enforcement of settlement agreements had been the main obstacle of the greater use of mediation,” said UN Legal Affairs Assistant Secretary-General, Stephen Mathias.

“The convention sets the standards for enforcing and invoking settlement agreements, the requirements for reliance on settlement agreements and the grounds for refusing to grant relief,” he added.

The naming of the convention is a coup for tiny Singapore, a city-state home to more than 130 foreign law firms that is vying to be an international legal hub as the number of commercial cross-border disputes rise.

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