11:08 PM Chang Wen Yee (LL.B. Candidate, Singapore Management University)

    7th Asian International Economic Law Network Conference 2021


    Organised by the Centre for Commercial Law in Asia (“CCLA”) of the Singapore Management University (“SMU”) Yong Pung How School of Law, the 7th Asian International Economic Law Network (“AIELN”) conference took place on 9 and 10 December 2021. With a focus on Asia’s role in building a sustainable future, the online conference brought together leading academics and practitioners from across the globe. Over the course of six panels, a wide range of topics were raised, ranging from sustainable development, financial controls, to global health law in the wake of the pandemic, as well as dispute settlement in Asia. To round off the conference, Pasha Hsieh (Associate Dean, Faculty Matters and Research, SMU Yong Pung How School of Law) launched his monograph, New Asian Regionalism in International Economic Law, recently published by Cambridge University Press.

    The conference began with opening remarks from Yip Man (Director, SMU CCLA), Tsai-yu Lin (Director, Asian Center for WTO & International Health Law and Policy, National Taiwan University College of Law), and Heng Wang (Member, AIELN Steering Committee; Professor, University of New South Wales).

    Trade and Sustainable Development, Asian Perspectives

    In the first session chaired by Heng Wang, presenters raised issues of trade and sustainable development in Asia. Wei Yin (Lecturer, Southwest University of Political Science and Law, China) shared her perspective on sustainable development in international economic governance, noting that developed countries and developing countries take different approaches in relation to sustainable development, with this divergence also presenting itself in Asia. Despite the increasing acceptance of sustainable development in declarations, resolutions, and treaty practices, Yin argued that the deliberate vagueness of this concept poses an obstacle to the effective implementation of sustainable development.

    Yueming Yan (Global PhD Fellow, SMU Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy) then explored the related issue of disputes arising from sustainable development provisions. She also examined whether there is a need to incorporate dispute settlement into international investment law, and the kind of institutions which can appropriately and efficiently address such disputes.

    Next, I-Ju Chen (Assistant Lecturer, Birmingham City University) undertook a critical appraisal of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (“APEC”) initiatives for the Blue Economy. Despite acknowledging that APEC is a recognised inter-governmental forum where regional cooperation is established, Chen also observed that the soft-law approach has no binding power. She ultimately concluded that ocean governance remains a complex issue, as illustrated by the South China Sea dispute.

    Finally, Vishakha Srivastava (Research Fellow, Centre for WTO Studies) and Ashutosh Kashyap (Associate, TPM Solicitors and Consultants, India) presented their findings on the implications of greening international trade for Asian countries. While the Asian region has great potential in achieving sustainable solutions, the presenters opined that the transition to a green economy is riddled with challenges. For instance, high upfront investment costs for sustainable solutions may pose a challenge. Access to technology and investment would be crucial to narrow the gap between developed and developing economies.

    Dispute Settlement – New Trends and Issues

    Moderated by Neha Mishra (Lecturer, Australian National University), the second panel saw presenters share interesting perspectives on dispute settlement. Mandy Meng Fang (Assistant Professor, City University of Hong Kong) started by discussing the WTO’s latest ruling in the US-China Solar Battle where it marked the first time that a WTO member state successfully defended the safeguard measure. However, Fang noted that the WTO panel’s interpretation of safeguard rules fails to establish a legal framework governing the use of disciplined safeguard measures, and it is crucial in the post-pandemic era that such measures are not abused to jeopardise environmental interests.

    Zooming into Asia’s alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) practices, Anran Zhang (Counsel, Asian International Arbitration Centre) not only shared his insights on China’s development of ADR on a national level, but also argued that Asia as a region could potentially shape the future for global dispute settlement. Notably, Zhang suggested that Asia’s large market presents many opportunities. This is best evinced by the Singapore Convention on Mediation, which he argued has merged Asian cultural norms into ADR practices. Trang Hoang Tu Linh (Lecturer, Ho Chi Minh City University of Law) also placed much emphasis on the Singapore Convention on Mediation, discussing the Vietnamese perspective on signing the convention. She observed that it would promote the use of commercial mediation and improve the business environment in Vietnam but suggested that changes must be made to the Vietnamese legal framework to achieve greater consistency with the convention.

    Jingyuan Zhou (Professor, University of Arizona, James E Rogers College of Law) concluded the panel with her sharing of the unwanted legal risks that states face under investment treaties for multi-jurisdiction adjudication of standard-essential patents disputes.

    International and Regional Investment Laws

    To round off the first day of the conference, the third panel, chaired by Pasha Hsieh, revolved around international and regional investment laws. Grace Estrada (Department of Justice, Philippines) argued for the establishment of an ASEAN Investment Tribunal. By examining the current investor-state dispute settlement regime in ASEAN, including the 2019 ASEAN Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism, Estrada opined that it may be time for such an intra-ASEAN investment tribunal to be formed.

    Next, Mark McLaughlin (Global Visiting Assistant Professor, SMU) analysed the practice of ASEAN states in determining whether bilateral investment treaties encourage or inhibit sustainable development. He observed that references to sustainable development in such treaties most commonly relate to national security, health, and the environment, and argued that the conception of sustainable development should be expanded to meet modern needs.

    Tho Thi Ahn Nguyen (Vice Dean, Hanoi Law University) proceeded to share the Vietnam perspective on enforcement of final awards in the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement, noting that it may positively motivate Vietnam to perform responsibilities in international investment agreements.

    Finally, Keer Huang (PhD Student, Wuhan University) evaluated China’s International Investment Agreement (“IIA”) regime, arguing that problems remain in the modernisation of Chinese IIAs. These include treaty parallelism, as well as lack of clarity over coordination between IIAs and domestic Chinese laws. 

    Global Data Governance and Health Law

    The second day of the conference began with a panel that spoke on contemporary issues of global data governance and health law, chaired by Han-Wei Liu (Senior Lecturer, Monash University). Ajit Kaushal (Professor, GD Goenka University, India) first shared about monetary sovereignty in the digital age and discussed how it would affect the ongoing US-China currency conflict. This was followed by Chao Tien Chang (Associate Professor, National Taiwan University) and Ching-Wen Hsueh’s (National Chengchi University, Taiwan) presentation on cross-border data transfer in Taiwan its impact on data sovereignty. They argued that Taiwan’s choice of international cooperation over data localisation is for the purpose of seeking membership in international cooperative frameworks, and likely due to its role as a data user rather than generator.

    Rabaï Bouderhem (Assistant Professor, Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University, Saudi Arabia) next explored the access to essential medicines as part of the right to health under international law. In particular, he argued that intellectual property rights over vaccines should be suspended during pandemics, and this could potentially be implemented through legally binding instruments regulated by the World Health Organization. Finally, Ying-Jun Lin (Assistant Professor, Chungyuan Christian University, Taiwan) and Feng-Jen Tsai (Associate Professor, Taipei Medical University) explored the conflict of regulatory scenarios between public health policies and the WTO regime of subsidies, arguing that there were two possible ways to address the conflict between public health concerns and trade interests under the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures agreement: by indicating public health objectives in the preamble of the agreement, or to confirm the role of the precautionary principle to justify the use of healthcare subsidies.

    Financial Law, Export Controls, and Sanctions

    Following the lively exchange on data and health, Junji Nakagawa (Chair, AIELN; Professor, Chuo Gakuin University, Japan) chaired the panel that focused on issues relating to financial law, export controls, and sanctions. Kickstarting the discussion was Soo-hyun Lee (Research Analyst, UNDP; PhD Student, Lund University), who shared about the “Do No Significant Harm” principle in sustainable finance regulation and its implications for Singapore’s draft taxonomy regulation developed by the Green Finance Industry Taskforce. Relatedly, Yung-Chen Lin (Insurance Bureau, Taiwan) explored how insurance regulations could reshape the financial landscape of renewable energy, ultimately noting that renewable energy is a continuously evolving industry where insurance regulators require widespread communication and intensive observation to keep pace with market development.

    Next, Sungjin Kang (Foreign Legal Counsel, Kim & Chang, Korea) presented on the Korean experience in protecting critical technology through export control. Drawing on case studies such as Magnachip and Hugel, Kang argued that harmonisation of export control of critical technologies among like-minded countries is crucial to protect technology from foreign leakage and theft.

    The final presenter, Guiqiang Liu (Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Fudan University, China), discussed China’s recently enacted blocking legislation and considered whether it would be an effective countermeasure to sanctions by the US. Despite noting that the Chinese blocking rules were comprehensive, Liu took the view that the uncertainty and compliance dilemma posed by the rules may render it a tool of limited impact against American sanctions.

    Emerging Challenges to Trade Rules

    The sixth and final panel, which was chaired by Douglas Arner (Associate Dean, University of Hong Kong), focused on emerging challenges to trade rules. First up was Xinyue Li (PhD Student, Durham University), who explored geoeconomics in international economic law. Analysing geoeconomics through the lens of Chinese and American practices, Li argued for collective endeavours to transcend the limitations of a quantum worldview.

    Carbon trading in Asia was later examined from a legal and economic perspective by Monika (Consultant, Centre for WTO Studies, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade), who discussed carbon pricing instruments in select Asian countries, as well as various regional and international efforts. She opined that pricing instruments must be tailored to each country’s unique circumstances to ensure their effectiveness and acceptance, although the EU and China can serve as useful case studies for other countries. The discussion surrounding environmental issues continued with Chen-Ju Chen’s (Associate Professor, National Chengchi University, Taiwan) presentation on the development of fisheries subsidies regulations after the failure of the WTO Doha Round negotiations. Focus was given to the Revised Draft Consolidated Chair Text introduced in 2021, which Chen opines may hopefully culminate in a successful conclusion of fisheries subsidies negotiations within the WTO.

    Finally, Aidonna Jan Binti Ayub (PhD Student, Monash University, Malaysia) provided a detailed sharing on state-owned enterprises (“SOEs”) where she suggested that the Global North is most involved and motivated in developing international law norms in this regard. She also noted the lack of one accepted definition of SOEs and the challenges in defining them.

    Book Launch: New Asian Regionalism in International Economic Law

    With all six panels concluded, the final event of the conference was the launch of Pasha Hsieh’s new book, New Asian Regionalism in International Law. He shared his hopes that the book can promote interdisciplinary dialogue and provide a comprehensive yet concise overview of frameworks of new Asian regionalism. The book received high praise from Rafael Leal-Arcas (Lee Kong Chian Visiting Professor of Law, SMU; Professor, Queen Mary University of London), who described the book as the richest and most comprehensive text on the topic of Asian regional trade. Both Yuka Fukunaga (Professor, Waseda University) and Bryan Mercurio (Professor, Chinese University of Hong Kong) also encouraged the audience to purchase the book, which in their view discussed important issues with wider implications to the multilateral trading system.

    Research Publication

    Selected papers presented at the conference will be published in a special issue of the Asian Journal of WTO & International Health Law and Policy.

    * The writer would like to thank the SMU Centre for Commercial Law in Asia, Associate Professor Pasha Hsieh, and Assistant Professor Aurelio Gurrea-Martínez for organising the conference and for the opportunity to attend and cover the event.

    ** This blog entry may be cited as Chang Wen Yee, “7th Asian International Economic Law Network Conference 2021”  (15 December 2021) (

    *** A PDF version of this entry may be downloaded here

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