A general introduction to international arbitration in Singapore


Singapore has two legal regimes for arbitration: the Arbitration Act 2001 (AA) for domestic arbitrations and the International Arbitration Act 1994 (IAA) for international arbitrations.

i.      International arbitration

The IAA is the key statute governing international commercial arbitrations in Singapore. It provides that the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (the UNCITRAL Model Law) has the force of law in Singapore, subject to any applicable provisions of the IAA[1]. Under the IAA, an arbitration is deemed international if at least one of the parties to an arbitration agreement, at the time of the conclusion of the agreement, has its place of business in any country other than Singapore[2]. Alternatively, an arbitration is deemed international if the place of arbitration, any place in which a substantial part of the obligations of the commercial relationship are to be performed, or the place with which the subject matter of the dispute is most closely connected is outside the country in which the parties have their place of business[3]. Parties can also expressly agree that the subject matter of the arbitration agreement relates to more than one country, which would also make it international under the IAA[4].

ii.    Domestic arbitration

The AA applies to any arbitration where the place of the arbitration is in Singapore and Part 2 of the IAA does not apply to the arbitration (in other words, where the arbitration is not deemed international under the IAA)[5]. Its enactment aimed to align Singapore’s domestic laws with the UNCITRAL Model Law, which was already the basis of the international arbitration regime in Singapore[6].

iii.  Key features of international arbitration in Singapore

The key features of international arbitration can be described as minimal curial intervention and facilitation of arbitration. Pursuant to Section 6 IAA, the Singapore courts will customarily grant a stay of any court proceedings in favour of international arbitration where a party can establish that the party that instituted court proceedings is in breach of an arbitration agreement. The arbitral tribunal is given the competence to rule on its own jurisdiction, subject to the Singapore High Court’s ability to review this on the application of a party[7]. A decision by the High Court in this regard is appealable only with the permission of the appellate court. Arbitrators are given broad powers in international arbitrations in Singapore. Pursuant to Section 12 IAA, an arbitral tribunal has the powers to make orders or give directions to any party for, among other things, discovery of documents, orders preserving property that forms the subject matter of the dispute, ordering security for the amount in dispute and issuing interim injunctions. Further, pursuant to Section 12A of the IAA, the General Division of the Singapore High Court is also empowered to make such orders for the purposes of an arbitration, meaning that the tribunal’s orders can be given bite where necessary. Awards made by the tribunal are binding on parties and may, with leave of the court, be enforced in the same manner as a judgment or order to the same effect[8].

Singapore is a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention). Awards that are to be enforced in another country that is party to the New York Convention can be enforced after being authenticated or certified by a person who has been appointed to authenticate or certify awards or arbitration agreements in Singapore[9].

A foreign arbitral award made in a convention country may also be enforced in Singapore either by action or in the same manner as an arbitral award made in Singapore[10]. Foreign arbitral awards made in a country that is not party to the New York Convention may also be enforced in Singapore by action or, with the permission of the General Division of the Singapore High Court, in the same manner as a judgment or order to the same effect.

Challenges to arbitral awards may be made only on certain, very limited, grounds.

These include the following:

    • where the agreement was not valid under the law to which parties have made it subject;
    • the award deals with a dispute not contemplated by the terms of submission to arbitration;
    • the subject matter of the dispute is not capable of settlement by arbitration under the law of Singapore or a foreign state;
    • the award is in conflict with the policy of Singapore or a foreign state;
    • the making of the award was induced or affected by fraud or corruption; or
    • a breach of the rules of natural justice occurred in connection with the making of the award, by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced.

iv.    Singapore arbitral institutions

The Singapore International Arbitration Centre

The key institution for international arbitration in Singapore is the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

In 2022, SIAC handled a total of 357 cases, out of which 336 were SIAC administered cases and 21 were ad hoc appointments[11]. The nature of the claims are diverse, spanning, among others, trade, commercial, corporate, shipping, aerospace, insolvency, pharmaceuticals and insurance. The total sum of new case filings with SIAC amounted to US$5.61 billion in 2022, with a total sum in dispute for SIAC administered cases reaching US$5.49 billion[12]. The highest sum in dispute for a single administered case was US$627 million[13]. A total of 88 per cent of the case filings were international in geographical origin, with the United States, India and China emerging as prominent users of SIAC’s arbitration services in Singapore. There was also an increase in the number of cases filed by parties from the United States, Cayman Islands, Australia and Thailand compared with the previous year[14]. The governing laws of 28 different jurisdictions were applied in disputes referred to SIAC in 2022, including China, India, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, New York and Germany[15].

SIAC also offers an ‘expedited procedure’ option for parties to resolve their disputes within six months where the amount in dispute does not exceed S$6 million if parties so agree or the case is one of exceptional urgency[16]. This has proved a popular option as it provides quick and efficient decision-making. In 2022, SIAC saw 87 applications for expedited procedures, 48 of which were accepted[17].

SIAC has a diverse pool of 340 arbitrators from over 36 countries, with a significant representation from Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States[18]. These arbitrators issued 161 awards in 2022. Notably, 11 awards or orders were issued by emergency arbitrators (EAs) to address urgent interim relief[19]. The types of disputes heard by SIAC arbitrators encompassed trade-related matters, commercial disputes, corporate issues, maritime and shipping cases, construction disputes and other miscellaneous matters[20].

Other institutions of note

The Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) serves as an arbitration platform to address the unique needs of the maritime community, offering a specialised platform for maritime arbitration[21]. By providing a dedicated space for resolving maritime disputes, the SCMA contributes to the efficient and effective resolution of conflicts within the maritime sector.

In 2022, the SCMA recognised the need for expedited resolution of ship collision disputes and developed the Expedited Arbitral Determination of Collision Claims (SEADOCC). SEADOCC aims to assess liability within five months, limiting evidence to a summary of facts and specific documents. Parties who agree to SEADOCC accept the arbitrator’s liability determination. To strengthen SEADOCC, a dedicated subcommittee consisting of select arbitrators and nautical assessors was formed[22].

Additionally, the SCMA introduced the Singapore Bunker Claims Procedure (SBC Terms) to address disputes arising from bunker sales and supply. Recognising the need for cost-effective resolution, the SBC Terms shorten time frames for pleadings and submissions. Awards, typically based on documents, are rendered within 14 days of the final filing[23]. For bunker claims as low as US$100,000, a faster summary procedure can be pursued while ensuring due process[24]. The SBC Terms have been incorporated into industry standards, further establishing their credibility and applicability[25].

In addition, Singapore is home to the regional offices of key international arbitration institutions. These include the World Intellectual Property Organization Arbitration and Mediation Center, which is its first overseas office outside Geneva; the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration; the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA); and the American Arbitration Institution’s International Centre for Dispute Resolution[26].

Author: Hamza Malik


[1] Section 3(1) IAA

[2] Section 5(2)(a) IAA

[3] Section 5(2)(b) IAA

[4] Section 5(2)(c) IAA

[5] Section 3 AA

[6] Arbitration in Singapore: A Practical Guide (Sweet & Maxwell, 2nd edition) at 4.050.

[7] Section 10(3) IAA

[8] Sections 19 and 19B(1) IAA.

[9] Section 19C IAA.

[10] Section 29(1) IA

[11] 2022 SIAC Annual Report pp. 20–21, https://siac.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/ SIAC_AR2022_Final-For-Upload.pdf.

[12] id., pp. 20–23.

[13] id., pp. 20–23.

[14] id., p. 24.

[15] id., p. 30

[16] Expedited Procedure Under the SIAC Rules for Conducting Arbitration in Singapore https://thuraisingam.com/resources/expedited-procedure-under-the-siac-rules-for-conducting-arbitration-in-singapore

[17] 2022 SIAC Annual Report, pp. 20–21.

[18] id., p. 27.

[19] id., pp. 20–21

[20] Annual Report, p. 26.

[21] SCMA year in review 2022 report https://www.scma.org.sg/SiteFolders/scma/387/YIR/SCMA%202022%20YIR%20(Draft%203)%20(16).pdf

[22] ibid, p. 5.

[23] ibid, p. 5.

[24] Ibid.

[25] ibid

[26] Annex C: Singapore’s Dispute Resolution Capabilities Development Initiatives SIPS-AnnexC.pdf (mlaw.gov.sg).

More from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP