Mediation center is new Korea ambition

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Mediation center is new Korea ambition

The Seoul Metropolitan Government yesterday opened Korea’s first dispute resolution complex, an ambitious attempt to become a new venue for international arbitration along with such other centers as Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Seoul International Dispute Resolution Center (SIDRC), located at the Seoul Global Tower Building in central Seoul, will offer dispute resolution and legal settlement services for both local and overseas companies.

Equipped with four hearing rooms and three preparation rooms, the venue has tie-ups with the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) and Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC).

Its size, which is 510 square meters (610 square yards), is smaller than operations in Singapore and Hong Kong, but officials say the strength of Seoul center will be its location in a tech savvy country.

“We will minimize paperwork by employing Smart PC systems and other advanced IT technology,” said Kim Kap-you, the chief secretary of the SIDRC.

“This is Korea’s strength that distinguishes itself from other countries where arbitrators bring along boxes of documents,” Kim said.

The launch will first benefit local companies that had to deal with the hassle of going abroad for arbitration.

“Dispute resolution has been provided by different countries around the world,” said Shin Young-moo, president of Korean Bar Association and executive director of the new arbitration hearing center, during an opening ceremony yesterday attended by Seoul City Mayor Park Won-soon and 150 guests from legal circles.

“We’d like to position Korea as an ideal base for international arbitration,” Shin said.

Arbitrators from Hong Kong, London and Singapore dispute settlement centers also took part in the ceremonial event.

“When a Korean firm is involved in a trade dispute with other foreign companies, it had to go to countries like London and Singapore,” said Son Joon-hee, an official of the city government. “Until now, the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board has facilitated the international arbitration process but it was not capable of actually providing hearing services,” he said. “But the Seoul International Dispute Resolution Center is equipped with a full suite of facilities to carry out the arbitration cases.”

According to the International Chamber of Commerce, the number of international arbitration case lodged by Korean companies was 340 from 1998 to 2010, higher than 263 cases in Japan and 240 in China. Some analysts estimated that the center could save Korea 500 billion won ($446 million) in the coming five years in airplane fares and accommodation costs abroad.

Korean legal professionals sketched out an optimistic prospect for the resolution base, saying its strategic geographical location between Japan and China and relatively sound legal infrastructure will provide an edge.

“The convenient infrastructure, good business environment and advanced IT technology led three overseas international arbitration centers to cooperate with us,” said Lim Seoung-woo, a lawyer who is in charge of public relations.

But some critics wonder if it will take off, citing lower transparency and higher corruption level than in Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore ranked fifth in the world for neutrality by the 2012 International Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International and Hong Kong was 12th. But Korea claimed 45th place.

By Park Eun-jee [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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