03:36 PM Ms Pulara Somachandra (Trainee Research Associate, SMU Centre for Commercial Law in Asia)

    ASEAN Law Research Network - Conference on Sustainable Development and Commerce in ASEAN Cities


    On 12 November 2021, the ASEAN Law Research Network at the SMU Centre for Commercial Law in Asia hosted the Conference on Sustainable Development and Commerce in ASEAN Cities.

    This one-day virtual conference saw around 80 participants joining from 16 jurisdictions. The discussions were organised along different themes, featuring one industry panel and three academic panels. The conference was brought to a conclusion with a keynote speech by Professor Rafael Leal-Arcas (Queen Mary University of London).

    Industry Panel - Responsible Business and Commerce in ASEAN

    The Industry Panel was moderated by Professor Archan Misra (Vice Provost (Research), Singapore Management University) and comprised Ms Elsa Chen (Partner, Allen & Gledhill LLP), Ms Melissa Koh (Senior Legal Director, Accenture Pte Ltd) and Mr Gareth Wong (CEO, Mitbana Pte Ltd).

    The panellists generally agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated pressure on leadership teams to deliver financial value with societal and environmental benefits for all stakeholders. They also agreed that there was a noticeable divergence of interests towards sustainable products and practices, both within the public and private sectors, and that many global issues surrounding sustainability stemmed from a lack of standardisation in reporting requirements.

    Ms Chen cautioned that taking a sledgehammer approach towards sustainable development would fail to consider differing circumstances within companies and regions. She suggested instead that governments restrict the use of hard laws for the most adverse effects and use soft laws where possible for greater flexibility and to recognise that not everyone would get to the same point at the same time. Ms Koh added that sustainability was about stewardship and taking concrete steps, such as migrating to a cloud-based model to reduce CO2 emissions and selecting vendors who have a compatible sustainability agenda. Mr Wong then highlighted that a bottom-up approach was necessary as localisation is key in trying to assimilate the local communities and only by doing so could corporations truly understand where each country is at in its sustainability journey and do better.

    Academic Panel 1 - Energy, Technology and the Environment

    Moderated by Associate Professor Winston Chow (Singapore Management University), Academic Panel 1 featured speakers from around the region, namely, Dr Piti Eiamchamroonlarp (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand), Professor Ferdinand M. Negre (Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippines), Associate Professor Tran Viet Dung (Ho Chi Minh City University of Law, Vietnam), Professor Mark Findlay and Ms Ong Li Min (Singapore Management University).

    The panellists highlighted the challenges in their respective countries alongside solutions that have been or could be implemented to ease such challenges. Dr Eiamchamroonlarp, Associate Professor Dung and Professor Negre respectively examined the regulatory issues that Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines were facing as their cities urbanised and transitioned into smart cities. Professor Findlay and Ms Ong shared how budding smart cities such as Singapore could do more to preserve their heritage though the concept of wise cities.

    Academic Panel 2 - Sustainable Trade, Finance and Investment in ASEAN

    This panel, moderated by Associate Professor Pasha Hsieh (Singapore Management University), comprised Dr Michelle Limenta (Universitas Pelita Harapan, Indonesia), Dr Dang Xuan Hop (Hop Dang’s Chambers, Vietnam) and Assistant Professor Nobumichi Teramura (University of Brunei Darussalam).

    Dr Limenta discussed the feasibility of introducing a chapter related to trade and sustainable development in ASEAN’s future free trade agreements (FTAs), while Dr Dang shared how different arbitration markets could in time merge into a single (online) market. Assistant Professor Teramura concluded the discussion with his insights into creating an international Islamic finance dispute resolution centre in Brunei, sharing that local arbitral institutions have yet to attract a significant caseload and that, to catch up with front-runners in the region, they need to adopt a niche-marketing approach.

    Academic Panel 3 - Designing ESG Rules and Frameworks for Southeast Asia

    This panel was moderated by Mr Lee Shih (Managing Partner, Lim Chee Wee Partnership, Malaysia). The speakers were Mr Gregorio Rafael P. Bueta (Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippines), Associate Professor Pearlie Koh (Singapore Management University), Assistant Professor Adam Reekie (Thammasat University, Thailand), Assistant Professor Surutchada Reekie (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand) and Assistant Professor Pechladda Pechpakdee (Mahasarakham University, Thailand).

    The panellists discussed various aspects of corporate and social responsibility, drawing on examples within their countries. The general consensus was that Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines had CSR and ESG frameworks in place, but these frameworks were not compelling larger corporations to do more as there was no overarching policy to spur businesses to take action. The panellists also discussed how a balance could be struck between profit maximisation and sustainability. 

    Keynote Speech - How Can Trade Agreements Contribute to Sustainability?

    The conference was brought to a resounding close by a Keynote Speech that was delivered by Professor Leal-Arcas, followed by a Q&A session moderated by Professor Locknie Hsu (Singapore Management University).

    In his speech, Professor Leal-Arcas advanced the contention that trade agreements are more effective in combatting climate change than climate change agreements. He reasoned that every country utilises trade as a wealth generator and that trade agreements are enforceable with an increasing number of agreements having a sustainable development chapter, allowing for trade law to be a tool in mitigating climate change and enhancing energy security.

    He proposed that this could be done through establishing climate clubs, putting a price on carbon, and targeting key sectors of the economies such as aviation. However, Professor Leal-Arcas cautioned that benefits must outweigh obligations and there should be sanctions for non-compliance for this to work. Since the science of climate change is now much more robust, he called for countries to include an environmental chapter in their trade agreements and to promote greater dialogue among sustainable energy communities.

Comment Section