Singapore as International Debt Restructuring Center: Aspiration and Challenges
EW Barker Centre for Law & Business Working Paper 21/02
35 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2021
Date Written: February 22, 2021
According to some economists, the deglobalization of the world has commenced. While that is true of trade and of ideas, it may not reflect the experience of existing companies undergoing restructuring which have in a sense been locked into a previous matrix where its assets and stakeholders were widely dispersed throughout the globe. This has created anomalies in the handling of worldwide insolvency cases which comes up against both protectionism, including judicial competition for such cases leading to less universalism in some situations, as well as the realignment of interests between the various corporate constituencies due to Covid-19, which may have further strengthened the hands of shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders as companies are kept afloat. In Singapore the government decided to develop Singapore into an international center for debt restructuring as part of its strategy to export its services and for this purpose embarked on an ambitious project to reform both its domestic and crossborder insolvency laws. The hybrid scheme was created by injecting some US bankruptcy law elements into the ‘English’ scheme of arrangement. The UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-border Insolvency, in the form of the Third Sch of the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act 2018 (IRDA 2018), was also adopted. Providing a forum for distressed companies in the region to restructure their debts without having to travel to London or New York is a positive development for Singapore and the region. The hybrid scheme is a path-breaking innovation so challenges to its design and operation are unavoidable. But its structure is flexible enough to allow for judicial creativity to fill gaps and to prevent its abuse. The courts face less challenges in interpreting the Third Sch, and has achieved some success in fostering cooperation and communication in cross-border insolvency matters between courts, but the domination of family companies, fragmentation of credit and weak legal institutions in the region may be more difficult challenges to Singapore’s aspiration to serve as the regional restructuring hub.
Keywords: forum shopping; international debt restructuring center; scheme of arrangement; hybrid scheme; UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency; Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act 2018; Chapter 11
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