The AALCO Annual Arbitration Forum 2023, hosted by the AALCO Hong Kong Regional Arbitration Centre (AALCO-HKRAC), was successfully held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on 5th and 6th December. The two-day international flagship summit, conducted in a hybrid format, attracted more than 1,500 in-person and online participants, who are insightful diplomats, regulators, business, financial and industry leaders, Artificial Intelligence and legal experts, as well as observer delegations representing governments and international organizations from across the globe, including Brunei, Cameroon, Mainland China, Egypt, Ghana, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Iran, Myanmar, the Philippines, the UK and most of the 47 member states of AALCO to discuss a wide range of international legal topics.
It is the first time for Hong Kong to secure and host the prestigious AALCO Annual Arbitration Forum, and AALCO-HKRAC is proud to organize such a large-scale international summit in Hong Kong, under the auspices of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization (AALCO) which is an inter-governmental legal consultative organization with 47 member states and with generous support from the Department of Justice. Hosting and strong attendance at this international forum in Hong Kong once again reinforces Hong Kong’s advantages as an international financial, business, innovation and legal services hub.
The AALCO Annual Arbitration Forum 2023, themed “Resolving Differences in a Changing World by Staying True to the Bandung Spirit”, commenced with welcoming remarks by Mr. John Lee, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who highlighted that the Bandung Spirit is very relevant and significant now as when it was formulated. Hong Kong, with a strong common law legal system that is similar to most major financial centers around the world, and international standard of rights and freedom, certainly upholds the Bandung Spirit of mutual respect, peace and equality.
Following the Chief Executive’s speech, His Excellency Dr. Kamalinne Pinitpuvadol, Secretary General of the Asian African Legal Consultative Organization shared in his welcoming remarks that the objective of setting up AALCO regional arbitration centres is to create stability and confidence in commercial relations by providing suitable means of commercial dispute resolution under a fair, reasonable mechanism in the Asian-African regions. AALCO-HKRAC, being the sixth centre of AALCO, plays a pivotal role in promoting alternative dispute resolution internationally with world-class facilities.
Addressing the audience with his honorary speech, Mr. FANG Jianming, Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region said that this forum will capitalize on Hong Kong’s advantage in international commercial arbitration and Online Dispute Resolution to start a new chapter in promoting legal cooperation in Asia and Africa. The establishment of AALCO-HKRAC is the fruit of cooperation between China and the AALCO with support from the 47 member countries. Since its inception, AALCO-HKRAC has promoted Hong Kong’s high-quality legal services and legal exchange between Asian and African countries, contributed to the innovative development of arbitration services, and demonstrated the unique charm of Hong Kong’s rule of law under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.
Acting Secretary for Justice, Mr Cheung Kwok-kwan took the stage as a keynote speaker. He emphasized the significance of robust legal and technological infrastructure. He noted that “Through the use of ODR and lawtech, AALCO Hong Kong would be able to reduce error in repeated form fillings, and to assist with using AI, in particular deep learning, to come up with legal domain specific language sets. This will enable accurate translations for multiple languages commonly used in the more than a hundred countries.”
The forum consists of eight panel sessions where distinguished guest speakers explored key topics relevant to the business community, regulators, industrialists, innovative and tech experts, judges and legal professionals, disputes-resolvers, law-makers and diplomats.
Speakers from session 1 shared new developments of arbitration laws and practices in Asia and Africa and all agreed that Hong Kong, with the competitive advantages of the “One Country, Two Systems” and special arrangements to help parties to arbitration secure interim measure from Chinese courts for award enforcement, is the most suitable location for arbitration. With the growth of collaboration among Asian and African countries, it is critical for countries to be well-prepared for dispute resolution, to strengthen people’s confidence in conducting business in the regions. It is generally recommended to resolve cross-border disputes through an international organization that serves as an arbitration center, and AALCO-HKRAC is undeniably one of the best options as it is established by international law and operates under the auspices of an international inter-governmental organization with 47 member states.
In session 2, speakers shared their views on judicial assistance in arbitration, agreeing that with the support of AALCO-HKRAC, the AALCO disputes settlement system and assistance from regional courts, it is easier for an arbitral award to be enforced in all 47 member states of AALCO and beyond including Iran which is not a party to the New York Convention, so people can concentrate on pursuing economic growth, stabilizing employment and conducting business. The popularity and success of arbitration and mediation also help reduce the workload of courts and thereby improve speedy access to justice for people living in AALCO member states, which together represents two-thirds of the world’s population.
Session 3 speakers emphasized the significance of e-commerce as evidenced by the enormous transaction volume during the “Double 11” (November 11) shopping festival. They also stressed the importance of respecting privacy amidst the rapid growth of e-commerce. Speakers also gave reasons and insights on how Fintech and digital economy are growing at an amazing pace. In the post-pandemic era, more companies and countries are exploring ways to harness AI and develop law tech. In October 2023, the manifesto on “The Legal Ethical Code of Conduct Regarding the Deployment of AI” was presented at an international summit organized by the Law Society of Hong Kong. In the foreseeable future, as new data security laws will be put into place, the demand for use of data centers and cloud services in Hong Kong is expected to rocket. In addition, despite issues and challenges in regard to Fintech and IP, Hong Kong as an open economy with a simple, low tax system is the ideal location for investment, cooperation and disputes resolution.
Speakers from session 4 shared the views regarding Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), which continues to boom in the post-pandemic era. Businessmen who do not keep up with the trend to adopt ODR will miss out. Hong Kong is a global leading jurisdiction for ODR services to help reduce the costs and time for resolving disputes. AALCO-HKRAC offers a leading ODR platform offering secure, reliable and cost-effective disputes resolution services for the Asian and African regions. Representatives from chambers of business attending from different regions expressed interest to adopt the AALCO-HKRAC model arbitration clause in the e-Commerce platform terms and conditions.
Session 5 speakers stressed that ESG is no longer an option, but a necessity. China has made tremendous efforts to develop green tech and mitigate pollution problems. In the meantime, discussions on the differences in ESG rules between China and Europe led to interesting discussions, where participants are able to learn from each other on areas of growing ESG disputes, and explore ways for harmonization of rules and standards.
In session 6, leaders from globally famous corporations like MTR Corporation and China Merchant Port shared best practices of infrastructure dispute resolution. Statistics show that as at the end of 2017, China had laid more than 1,100 kilometres of optical fibres and optical cables in South Africa. Mega infrastructure projects often give rise to complicated disputes. Big data shared by speakers highlighted that most of the world’s large scale mega infrastructure projects are now happening in Africa and involve many Chinese companies and contractors. AALCO-HKRAC, with its international, “country-neutral” role, may be the best option of choices for handling infrastructure project disputes in a neutral, impartial way. Investors were also reminded of the changing rules in government immunity and sovereign immunity, they were also encouraged to join more relevant events to stay tuned for the latest updates.
Speakers from session 7 shared insights on handling sanctions, protectionism and supply chain disruptions. Sanctions are frequently used as a tool of economic warfare, despite many of them being against international conventions. Sanction-related supply chain disruptions have led to renegotiation of many projects, some of which require arbitration. Businesses should take priority in protecting intellectual property and other assets, understand tax exposures and proactive conduct internal audits and strengthen risk management, strengthen resilience of supply-chain and build strength in the knowledge of international laws. AALCO-HKRAC, established by international law, is country-neutral that may serve as an ideal venue for resolving such disputes and help preempt and resolve problems as AALCO annual sessions are well attended by foreign affairs diplomats from the 47 member countries.
In the final session, it was the speakers’ consensus that integrity is the key to long term prosperity and win-win mutually beneficial relationships. Looking forward, Asian and African countries must stay true to the Bandung Spirit through mutual respect to achieve win-win outcomes for a bright and rosy future. 90% of the 47 AALCO states are Belt and Road countries, and more countries are expected to join the initiative. Furthermore, Hong Kong is actively pursuing accession to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Companies are set to benefit from the more accommodating rules of origin that bring lower tariffs, simplified rules and procedures, and better market access, thereby strengthening Hong Kong’s status as an international trade centre and legal services and disputes resolution hub. Everyone is eagerly looking forward to reaching new heights together for a prosperous shared future.
Photo link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/KewggL4a5GyLWeRt6
Forum link: http://aaaf.aalcohkrac.org