This panel discussion provides insights and predictions on the effects of the following topics on the Asia Pacific region: (i) the US-China Trade War, (ii) COVID-19’s impact on SMEs, (iii) the decline in physical retail spaces, and (iv) the UNCITRAL Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency. The panellists were Abizer Diwanji (EY India, India), Ashok Kumar, (BlackOak LLC, Singapore), Jimmy Ng (Chooi & Company + Cheang & Ariff [CCA], Malaysia), Jacqueline Walsh (Kroll, Hong Kong), Melody Wang (Shanghai Langyue [Beijing] Law Firm, China).
Some of the key insights were:
- A policy shift under the Biden administration regarding US-China relations is unlikely. Assessing the effect of the US-China trade war in the Asia Pacific region is tricky as the COVID-19 pandemic has confounded any actual impact.
- To the extent that the likely effects of the US-China trade war in the Asia Pacific region are determinable, several jurisdictions (e.g., India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam) may have benefited, as affected companies move out of China and scour the globe for alternative vendors and trade partners. More developed economies may also rely on other cross-border trade, but maintaining a balance in the relationship between the two superpowers remains crucial. The increase in commercial trade in alternative jurisdictions, and the corresponding decrease in other jurisdictions, would provide opportunities for restructuring work.
- The pandemic’s effect on SMEs did not appear as bad as expected to date. This could be due to many related factors, such as government support (subsidies, tax breaks, loan moratorium, etc.), the structure of compensation (companies had funds for year-end or holiday bonuses, which were realigned as emergency funds), and culture (retrenchment as a last resort as employers are mindful that workers would not have any unemployment support from the government). However, more bankruptcy filings could be expected in 2021 as States cease governmental support to SMEs increasingly.
- Due to online retail, commercial space vacancy rates have been increasing before the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that trend. As companies currently renegotiate lease contracts, they may also increasingly consider moving to smaller office spaces as work-from-home arrangements become more accepted or institutionalized, even post-pandemic.
- No jurisdiction in the Asia Pacific region has adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency. The panellists from China and Malaysia are of the view that there is little interest on the ground in doing so, more likely due to fear of prejudicing local creditors. In any event, a “modified parochialism,” whereby a system in which courts from different jurisdictions can cooperate, should be encouraged. A recent positive development is that Hong Kong and China signed a brief Record of Meeting, setting out a consensus on the mutual recognition of and assistance to insolvency proceedings between the two jurisdictions.