Tapping Asia's growth

James Potts looks at the growing opportunities for barristers in the Far East and reports on the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators’ International Arbitration Conference, held earlier this year in Malaysia

For me, the skyscraper cities of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur feel like gateways to the future. Since first coming to South East Asia when my chambers set up an international office in Singapore in early 2013, I have loved the sense of ambition, entrepreneurship and enthusiasm that propels this booming region.

The annual Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb)conference was this year held in Penang – “the Pearl of the Orient” – in Malaysia on 22-24 August 2013, with the theme of “Tapping Asia’s Growth”. It highlighted the great opportunities available for barristers to participate in this exciting market, both as advocates and arbitrators.

Founded in 1915, CIArb has a membership of around 12,500 in 120 countries, including 13 branches in Great Britain. CIArb offers a range of courses allowing lawyers and others to qualify as Associate (ACIArb), Member (MCIArb) or Fellow (FCIArb) of the Institute, which can be completed in London and around the world.

Joining CIArb is the favoured route for lawyers to become members of international panels of arbitrators, adjudicators and mediators. From Fellowship, members can progress to becoming Chartered Arbitrators. Many also join the Institute to enhance their skills and standing as advocates in international arbitrations.

Singapore and Hong Kong are still the major centres for international arbitration in the region. However Kuala Lumpur (KL) is now a credible challenger, presenting exciting opportunities for UK practitioners. The Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA) increasingly finds favour with parties because arbitrating there is considerably cheaper than in Singapore and HK. The Malaysian government has made a huge commitment to developing KL as an arbitration centre. A new KLRCA building with world-class facilities will be completed in mid 2014. It is based on the model of leading arbitration centre Maxwell Chambers, in Singapore, which has been recently refurbished with state-of-the-art arbitration suites and facilities as well as hosting the international offices of a number of UK chambers.

A particularly exciting area in which Malaysia is expected to play a central role is arbitration relating to Islamic finance. A presentation by Cecil Abraham (Zul Rafique & Partners, Kuala Lumpur) emphasised the vast growth of Malaysia as a world centre for Islamic finance, and it is likely that an increasing number of Islamic finance agreements will name KLRCA as their seat of arbitration.

Practitioners with an interest in the region can look even wider than Malaysia, as a number of speakers indicated:

China: John Bishop (Pinsent Masons, Beijing) highlighted the fact that Chinese construction companies are now responsible for the highest volume of international construction work in the world, leaving aside domestic construction (including the latter puts China far ahead of the competition). This growth has fuelled enormous opportunities for international lawyers, including in arbitration. However both lawyers and arbitrators have to make particular efforts to ensure that Chinese parties are informed and reassured about the procedures being followed in arbitrations outside China.

South Korea: Arbitration in South Korea is also growing fast. As Kevin Kim (Bae, Kim & Lee, Seoul) explained, the civil law system of Korea encourages quick and efficient arbitration: most cases conclude within only six months. A state-of-the-art International Dispute Resolution Centre was recently opened in Seoul.

Japan: Although not a traditional arbitration hub, Hiroyuki Tezuka (Nishimura & Asahi, Tokyo) explained that there is increasing interest in the civil law jurisdiction of Japan for settling international disputes.

Myanmar: One of the most fascinating presentations was from Robert Pe (Orrick, Hong Kong). He recounted visiting Myanmar shortly after the dissolution of the military junta and meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, who almost immediately invited him to give presentations to senior Burmese officials highlighting the importance of Myanmar acceding to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958. The country did so shortly afterwards, on 16 April 2013. Myanmar may not itself become a centre for arbitration any time soon but, with a huge influx of investment from other South East Asian nations, its infrastructure projects may well be the source of many disputes to be resolved in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and elsewhere.

As Singapore Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon put it in his keynote address to the conference, the twenty-first century is the “golden age of arbitration” in the South East Asia region. For UK barristers seeking to play a part in this golden age, the key must be co-operation with the local lawyers and firms who have built up invaluable client bases and in-depth expertise in the region. A co-operative approach comes naturally to barristers used to working with solicitors as part of a split profession.

The core strengths that the Bar can offer local firms, in a marriage with their local expertise, are providing specialist advice and/or advocacy on a referral basis. The referral basis of the Bar is also its greatest advantage over international law firms, as local firms do not need to fear barristers taking over their clients: we depend on the local firm’s instructions. Above all, in building a practice in arbitration in any region in Asia there can be no substitute for the care and commitment required to build trust and strong relationships with local firms.

Case studies: Levels of membership of the Chartered Institute of Arbitration
CIArb offers three levels of membership of the Institute: as an Associate (ACIArb), Member (MCIArb) or Fellow (FCIArb). Each stage requires completion of a CIArb-accredited course: respectively, the Introductory Certificate, Advanced Certificate and the CIArb Diploma. There are three training “pathways” to choose from: arbitration, construction adjudication and mediation. Each stage can be completed in a series of modules, or alternatively there are accelerated routes to Membership and Fellowship for barristers with arbitration experience. Courses range from one-day introductory courses costing £480 to two-day assessment programmes for the accelerated route to Fellowship (requiring substantial pre-course preparation) costing £1,860 and a nine-day residential course for the Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration costing £6,000. Courses are offered in London throughout the year, as well as at other venues around the world, and details can be found on the CIArb website at www.ciarb.org/education-and-training.

James Potts, Thirty Nine Essex Street

Category: 
Author details: 
James Potts

James is a barrister at Thirty Nine Essex Street, specialising in commercial and financial services dispute resolution. Members of Thirty Nine Essex Street practise widely in international arbitration, including from its office in the arbitration centre at Maxwell Chambers, Singapore.