Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy, characterized by a predominantly open investment regime, with strong government commitment to maintaining a free market and to actively managing Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency and lack of corruption, business-friendly laws and regulations, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protections, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive features of the investment climate. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business. The Global Competitiveness Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the second-most competitive economy globally. Singapore typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia and one of the least corrupt in the world, and actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third least corrupt nation. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force on January 1, 2004, expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and environmental protections.
Singapore has a diversified economy and attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial services, wholesale and retail trade, and business services). The government actively promotes the country as a research and development (R&D) and innovation center for businesses by offering tax incentives, research grants, and partnership opportunities with domestic research agencies. U.S. direct investment in Singapore in 2017 reached USD 274.3 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing (particularly computers and electronic products), and finance and insurance – an increase of 7.4 percent from the previous year. The investment outlook remains positive due to regional GDP growth. In 2018, U.S. companies pledged USD 4.1 billion in future investments in Singapore’s manufacturing and services sectors.
Looking ahead, Singapore is poised to attract foreign investments in digital innovation and cybersecurity. The Government of Singapore (hereafter, “the government”) is investing heavily in automation, artificial intelligence, and integrated systems under its Smart Nation banner and seeks to establish itself as a regional hub.
In recent years, the government has tightened foreign labor policies to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers. The government introduced measures in the 2019 budget to further decrease the ratio of mid- and low-skilled foreign workers to local employees in a firm from 40 percent to 38 percent beginning January 1, 2020 and then down to 35 percent in 2021. These cuts, which target the service sector, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. To address some of these concerns, the government has introduced programs that partially subsidize the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||3 of 175||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2018||2 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||5 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$274,260||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$54,530||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business. The 2018 Global Competitiveness Report ranks Singapore as the second -most competitive economy globally. The 2004 USSFTA expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and the environment.
The Government of Singapore is committed to maintaining a free market, but it also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of government-linked corporations (GLCs). As of February 2019, the top three Singapore-listed GLCs accounted for 13.1 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of GLCs in the domestic economy, arguing that they have displaced or suppressed private sector entrepreneurship and investment.
Singapore’s legal framework and public policies are generally favorable toward foreign investors. Foreign investors are not required to enter into joint ventures or cede management control to local interests, and local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors (reference Limits on National Treatment and Other Restrictions), eligibility for various incentive schemes depends on investment proposals meeting the criteria set by relevant government agencies. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital. The judicial system, which includes international arbitration and mediation centers and a commercial court, upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are generally considered to be transparent and effectively enforced.
Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead investment promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore (https:www.edb.gov.sg). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives. The government maintains close engagement with investors through the EDB, which provides feedback to other government agencies to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost-competitive.
Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, and ports and airports sectors, as well as property ownership. Under Singapore law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.
Since 2000, the Singapore telecommunications market has been fully liberalized. This move has allowed foreign and domestic companies seeking to provide facilities-based (e.g. fixed line or mobile networks) or services-based (e.g. local and international calls and data services over leased networks) telecommunications services to apply for licenses to operate and deploy telecommunication systems and services. Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) – a GLC that is majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Singapore Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also GLCs. In December 2018, Australian telco TPG Telecom announced a limited, free mobile service to run through 2019. TPG offers only subscriber identity module (SIM) services in Singapore. In the past three years, four Singapore start-ups offering mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The three established Singapore telecommunications competitors are expected to strengthen their partnerships with the MVNOs in a defensive move against TPG’s entry.
As of November 2018, Singapore has 69 facilities-based operators and 257 services-based (individual) operators offering prepaid services. Since 2007, SingTel has been exempted from dominant licensee obligations for the residential and commercial portions of the retail international telephone services. SingTel is also exempted from dominant licensee obligations for wholesale international telephone services, international managed data, international IP transit, leased satellite bandwidth (VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing that the market for these services had effective competition.
In April 2017, Singapore held a General Spectrum Auction for mobile airwaves, the largest such auction in 16 years, allocating additional blocks of spectrum to accommodate increasing demand for mobile data services. Singtel, Starhub, M1, and TPG paid a combined total of USUSD 870 million (SUSD 1.15billion) in this heavily-bid auction for additional frequency bands. To facilitate 5G technology and service trials, IMDA has waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential.
Singapore’s IMDA operates as both the regulatory agency and the investment promotion agency for the country’s telecommunications sector. IMDA conducts public consultations on major policy reviews and provides decisions on policy changes to relevant companies.
The local free-to-air broadcasting, cable, and newspaper sectors are effectively closed to foreign firms. Section 44 of the Broadcasting Act restricts foreign equity ownership of companies broadcasting in Singapore to 49 percent or less, although the Act does allow for exceptions. Individuals cannot hold shares that would make up more than five percent of the total votes in a broadcasting company without the government’s prior approval. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires directors to be Singapore citizens. Newspaper companies must issue two classes of shares, ordinary and management, with the latter available only to Singapore citizens or corporations approved by the government. Holders of management shares have an effective veto over selected board decisions.
Singapore regulates content across all major media outlets. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of any newspaper and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers, which have resulted in the foreign publishers issuing apologies and paying damages. Several dozen publications remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts the import, sale, and circulation of publications that the government considers contrary to public interest. Examples include pornographic magazines, publications by banned religious groups, and publications containing extremist religious views. Following a routine review in 2015, the then-Media Development Authority lifted a ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest content.
Singaporeans generally face few restrictions on the internet. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing material that the government deems objectionable, such as pornography and racist and religious hatred sites. Online news websites that report regularly on Singapore and have a significant reach are individually licensed, which requires these sites to submit a bond of USD 40,000 (SGD 50,000) and to adhere to requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from IMDA. Some view this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government. In December 2018 authorities charged the editor of an online news site with criminal defamation following the publication of a contributor’s allegedly defamatory letter, although the editor had removed the post when advised to do so by the authorities.
In April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, would require websites to run corrections alongside “online falsehoods” and would impose penalties on sites or individuals that spread “misinformation,” as determined by the government.
MediaCorp TV is the only free-to-air TV broadcaster and is 100 percent owned by the government via Temasek Holdings (Temasek). Local Pay-TV providers are StarHub and Singtel, which are both partially owned by Temasek or its subsidiaries. Local free-to-air radio broadcasters are MediaCorp Radio Singapore, which is also owned by Temasek Holdings, SPH Radio, owned by the publically-held Singapore Press Holdings, and So Drama! Entertainment, owned by the Singapore Ministry of Defense. BBC World Services is the only foreign free-to-air radio broadcaster in Singapore.
To rectify the high degree of content fragmentation in the Singapore pay-TV market, and shift the focus of competition from an exclusivity-centric strategy to other aspects such as service differentiation and competitive packaging, the MDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011 requiring pay-TV companies designated by MDA to be Receiving Qualified Licensees (RQL) – currently SingTel and StarHub – to cross-carry content subject to exclusive carriage provisions. Correspondingly, Supplying Qualified Licensees (SQLs) with an exclusive contract for a channel are required to carry that content on other RQL pay-TV companies. In February 2019, the IMDA proposed to continue the current cross-carriage measures. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has expressed concern that this measure restricts copyright exclusivity. Content providers consider the measures an unnecessary interference in a competitive market that denies content holders the ability to negotiate freely in the marketplace, and an interference with their ability to manage and protect their intellectual property. More common content is now available across the different pay-TV platforms, and the operators are beginning to differentiate themselves by originating their own content, offering subscribed content online via PCs and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.
Streaming services have entered the market, which MPAA has found leads to a significant reduction in intellectual property infringements. StarHub and Singtel have both partnered with multiple content providers, including U.S. companies, to provide streaming content in Singapore and around the region.
Banking and Finance
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banking activities as provided for under the Banking Act. Singapore maintains legal distinctions between foreign and local banks and the type of license (i.e. full service, wholesale, and offshore banks) held by foreign commercial banks. As of March 2019, 28 foreign full-service licensees and 97 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 27 merchant banks are licensed to conduct corporate finance, investment banking, and other fee-based activities. Offshore and wholesale banks are not allowed to operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities. Only Full Banks and “Qualifying Full Banks” (QFBs) can operate Singapore dollar retail banking activities but are subject to restrictions on the number of places of business, ATMs, and ATM networks. Additional QFB licenses may be granted to a subset of full banks, which provide greater branching privileges and greater access to the retail market than other full banks. As of March 2019, there are ten banks operating QFB licenses.
Except in retail banking, Singapore laws do not distinguish operationally between foreign and domestic banks. Currently, all banks in Singapore are required to maintain a Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and an Asian Currency Unit (ACU), separating international and domestic banking operations from each other. Transactions in Singapore dollars can be booked only in the DBU whereas transactions in foreign currency are typically booked in the ACU. The ACU is an accounting unit that the banks use to book all their foreign currency transactions conducted in the Asian Dollar Market (ADM). This enables additional prudential requirements to be imposed on banks’ domestic businesses in Singapore, while also avoiding undue restrictions on the offshore activities of banks. Following public consultations, MAS initiated a 30-month implementation timeline from February 2017 for the removal of the DBU-ACU divide, which will be aligned with the revisions made to MAS 610 (Submission of Statistics and Returns).
The government initiated a banking liberalization program in 1999 to ease restrictions on foreign banks and has supplemented this with phased-in provisions under the USSFTA, including removal of a 40 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of local banks and a 20 percent aggregate foreign shareholding limit on finance companies. The Minister in charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore must approve the merger or takeover of a local bank or financial holding company, as well as the acquisition of voting shares in such institutions above specific thresholds of five percent, 12 percent, or 20 percent of shareholdings.
Although Singapore’s government has lifted the formal ceilings on foreign ownership of local banks and finance companies, the approval of controllers of local banks ensures that this control rests with individuals or groups whose interests are aligned with the long-term interests of the Singapore economy and Singapore’s national interests. Of the 29 full-service licenses granted to foreign banks, three have gone to U.S. banks. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs, which is only one as of March 2019, have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full-service foreign banks with QFB status. U.S. and foreign full-service banks with QFB status can freely relocate existing branches and share ATMs among themselves. They can also provide electronic funds transfer and point-of-sale debit services and accept services related to Singapore’s compulsory pension fund. In 2007, Singapore lifted the quota on new licenses for U.S. wholesale banks.
Locally and non-locally incorporated subsidiaries of U.S. full-service banks with QFB status can apply for access to local ATM networks. However, no U.S. bank has come to a commercial agreement to gain such access. Despite liberalization, U.S. and other foreign banks in the domestic retail-banking sector have reported to still face barriers. Under the enhanced QFB program launched in 2012, MAS requires QFBs it deems systemically significant to incorporate locally. If those locally incorporated entities are deemed “significantly rooted” in Singapore, with a majority of Singaporean or permanent resident members, Singapore may grant approval for an additional 25 places of business, of which up to ten may be branches. Local retail banks do not face similar constraints on customer service locations or access to the local ATM network. As noted above, U.S. banks are not subject to quotas on service locations under the terms of the USSFTA. Holders of credit cards issued locally by U.S. banks incorporated in Singapore cannot access their accounts through the local ATM networks. They are also unable to access their accounts for cash withdrawals, transfers, or bill payments at ATMs operated by banks other than those operated by their own bank or at foreign banks’ shared ATM network. Nevertheless, full-service foreign banks have made significant inroads in other retail banking areas, with substantial market share in products like credit cards and personal and housing loans.
In January 2019, MAS announced the passage of the Payment Services Bill after soliciting public feedback for design of the bill. The bill requires more payment services such as digital payment tokens, dealing in virtual currency and merchant acquisition, to be licensed and regulated by MAS. It also limits the amount of money stored in personal mobile wallets and how much can be transferred to another user’s bank accounts in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and address issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks.
Singapore has no trading restrictions on foreign-owned stockbrokers. There is no cap on the aggregate investment by foreigners regarding the paid-up capital of dealers that are members of the SGX. Direct registration of foreign mutual funds is allowed provided MAS approves the prospectus and the fund. The USSFTA has relaxed conditions foreign asset managers must meet in order to offer products under the government-managed compulsory pension fund (Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme).
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Foreign law firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law but cannot practice Singapore law except in the context of international commercial arbitration. U.S. and foreign attorneys are allowed to represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. To offer Singapore law, FLPs require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. The vast majority of Singapore’s 127 foreign law firms operate FLPs, while QFLPs and JLVs each number in the single digits.
The QFLP licenses allow foreign law firms to practice in permitted areas of Singapore law, which excludes constitutional and administrative law, conveyancing, criminal law, family law, succession law, and trust law. As of March 2019 there are nine QFLPs in Singapore, including five U.S. firms. In January 2019, the Ministry of Law announced the deferral to 2020 of the decision to renew the licenses of five QFLPs, which were set to expire in 2019 so that the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore along with the other four firms whose licenses were also extended to 2020. Decisions on the renewal considers the firms’ quantitative and qualitative performance such as the value of work that the Singapore office will generate, the extent to which the Singapore office will function as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore, and the firm’s proposal for the new license period.
A Joint Law Venture (JLV) is a collaboration between a Foreign Law Practice and Singapore Law Practice, which may be constituted as a partnership or company. The Director of Legal Services in the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which JLV are permitted to be established. There is no clear indication on the percentage of shares that each JLV partner may hold in the JLV.
Law degrees from designated U.S., British, Australian, and New Zealand universities are recognized for purposes of admission to practice law in Singapore. Under the USSFTA, Singapore recognizes law degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. Singapore will admit to the Singapore Bar law school graduates of those designated universities who are ranked among the top 70 percent of their graduating class or have obtained lower-second class honors (under the British system).
Engineering and Architectural Services
Engineering and architectural firms can be 100 percent foreign-owned. Engineers and architects are required to register with the Professional Engineers Board and the Board of Architects, respectively, to practice in Singapore. All applicants (both local and foreign) must have at least four years of practical experience in engineering or two years of practical training in architectural works, and pass written and oral examinations set by the respective Board.
Accounting and Tax Services
Major international accounting firms operate in Singapore. Registration as a public accountant under the Accountants Act is required to provide public accountancy services (i.e. the audit and reporting on financial statements and other acts that are required by any written law to be done by a public accountant) in Singapore, although registration as a public accountant is not required to provide other accountancy services, such as accounting, tax, and corporate advisory work. All accounting entities that provide public accountancy services must be approved under the Accountants Act and their supply of public accountancy services in Singapore must be under the control and management of partners or directors who are public accountants ordinarily resident in Singapore. In addition, if the accounting entity firm has two partners or directors, at least one of them must be a public accountant. If the business entity has more than two partners or directors, two-thirds of the partners or directors must be public accountants.
Singapore further liberalized its gas market with the amendment of the Gas Act and implementation of a Gas Network Code in 2008, which were designed to give gas retailers and importers direct access to the onshore gas pipeline infrastructure. However, key parts of the local gas market, such as town gas retailing and gas transportation through pipelines remain controlled by incumbent Singaporean firms. Singapore has sought to grow its supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), and BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd (acquired by Royal Dutch Shell in February 2016) was appointed in 2008 as the first aggregator with an exclusive franchise to import LNG to be sold in its re-gasified form in Singapore. In October 2017, Shell eastern Trading Pte Ltd and Pavilion Gase Pte Ltd were awarded import licenses to market up to 1 Million Tonnes Per Annum (Mtpa) or for three years, whichever occurs first. This also marked the conclusion of the first exclusive franchise awarded to BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd.
In November 2018, Singapore began a progressive launch of an Open Electricity Market that will be completed in May 2019. Over 1.4 million households and business accounts will have the option of buying electricity from a retailer licensed by the Energy Market Authority (EMA). To participate in the Open Electricity Market licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by EMA in order to sell electricity to households and small businesses. There are two types of electricity retailers: Market Participant Retailers (MPRs) and Non-Market Participant Retailers (NMPRs). MPRs have to be registered with the Energy Market Company (EMC) to purchase electricity from the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS) to sell to contestable consumers. NMPRs need not register with EMC to participate in the NEMS since they will purchase electricity indirectly from the NEMS through the Market Support Services Licensee (MSSL). As of April 2019, there were 13 firms in the market, including foreign and local.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign and local entities may readily establish, operate, and dispose of their own enterprises in Singapore subject to certain requirements. A foreigner who wants to incorporate a company in Singapore is required to appoint a locally resident director; foreigners may continue to reside outside of Singapore. Foreigners who wish to incorporate a company and be present in Singapore to manage its operations are strongly advised to seek approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before incorporation. Except for representative offices (where foreign firms maintain a local representative but do not conduct commercial transactions in Singapore) there are no restrictions on carrying out remunerative activities. As of October 2017, foreign companies may seek to transfer their place of registration and be registered as companies limited by shares in Singapore under Part XA (Transfer of Registration) of the Companies Act. Such transferred foreign companies are subject to the same requirements as locally-incorporated companies.
All businesses in Singapore must be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Foreign investors can operate their businesses in one of the following forms: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, incorporated company, foreign company branch or representative office. Stricter disclosure requirements were passed in March 2017 requiring foreign company branches registered in Singapore to maintain public registers of their members, while locally incorporated companies. Foreign company branches registered in Singapore as well as limited liability partnerships will be required to maintain registers of controllers (generally defined as individuals or legal entities with more than 25 percent interest or control of the companies and foreign companies) aimed at preventing money laundering.
While there is currently no cross-sectional screening process for foreign investments, investors are required to seek approval from specific sector regulators for investments into certain firms. These sectors include energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal services, public accounting services, ports and airports, and property ownership. Under Singapore law, Articles of Incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.
Singapore does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment. There are no reports of U.S. investors being especially disadvantaged or singled out relative to other foreign investors.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Singapore underwent a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016. No major policy recommendations were raised. This was the country’s only policy review in the past three years. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp443_e.htm)
The OECD and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released a joint report in February 2019 on the ASEAN-OECD Investment Program. The Program aims to foster dialogue and experience sharing between OECD countries and Southeast Asian economies on issues relating to the business and investment climate. It is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. ( )
The OECD released a Transfer Pricing Country Profile for Singapore in June 2018. The country profiles focus on countries’ domestic legislation regarding key transfer pricing principles, including the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, comparability analysis, intangible property, intra-group services, cost contribution agreements, transfer pricing documentation, administrative approaches to avoiding and resolving disputes, safe harbors and other implementation measures. ( )
The OECD released a peer review report in March 2018 on Singapore’s implementation of internationally agreed tax standards under Action Plan 14 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. Action 14 strengthens the effectiveness and efficiency of the mutual agreement procedure, a cross-border tax dispute resolution mechanism.
The UNCTAD has not conducted an IPR of Singapore.
Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal ( ), including any individual, firm or corporation that carries out business for a foreign company. Applications are typically processed immediately after the application fee is paid, but may take between 14 days to two months if the application is referred to another agency for approval or review. The process of establishing a foreign-owned limited liability company in Singapore is among the fastest of the countries surveyed by IAB.
ACRA provides a single window for business registration. However, additional regulatory approvals (e.g. licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective Ministries or Statutory Boards. Additional information and business support on registering a branch of a foreign company is available through the EDB ( ). Furthermore, GuideMeSingapore by corporate services firm Hawskford provides details on setting up a business in Singapore (https://www.guidemesingapore.com/).
Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign ownership of property. Foreign companies are free to open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency. There is no minimum paid-in capital requirement, but at least one subscriber share must be issued for valid consideration at incorporation.
At GER (ger.co), Singapore’s online business registration process scores 7/10 in Online Single Windows (https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/).
Business facilitation processes provide for fair and equal treatment of women and minorities, and there are no mechanisms that provide special assistance to women and minorities.
Singapore places no restrictions on domestic investors investing abroad. The government promotes outward investment through Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). It provides market information, business contacts, and financial assistance and grants for internationalizing companies. While it has a global reach and runs overseas centers in major cities across the world, a large share of its overseas centers are located in major trading and investment partners and regional markets like China, India, and ASEAN.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Singapore has 33 bilateral investment treaties (BIT) currently in force. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either economy against non-commercial risks of expropriation and nationalization. It has signed an additional eight BITs that have yet to be implemented, including some that were signed several years ago.
Singapore has 13 bilateral and ten regional free trade agreements (FTA) currently in force. Singapore has signed free trade or economic cooperation agreements that include investment chapters with ASEAN, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, China, the European Free Trade Association (Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland), India, Japan, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, South Korea, Costa Rica, the United States, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Chinese Taipei. Singapore also has agreements with Jordan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), but these agreements do not contain investment chapters. Singapore is a member of ASEAN, which has in force FTAs with Australia and New Zealand, China, India, South Korea, and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan. Singapore also has a Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement with Brunei, Chile, and New Zealand.
Singapore and the European Union signed a bilateral FTA in October 2018, which is awaiting ratification. Singapore also signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Singapore is actively negotiating FTAs with the Eurasian Economic Union (including Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) and the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru). ASEAN is currently negotiating FTA extensions with Japan, China, and Australia, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes ASEAN members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.
Singapore has signed Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) with 90 countries, but Singapore does not have a comprehensive Avoidance of Taxation Agreement with the United States. U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services. No tax disputes have been reported.
In November 2018, Singapore signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement and a reciprocal Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act Model 1 Intergovernmental Agreement with the United States. The new reciprocal Intergovernmental Agreement will supersede the current non-reciprocal one (entered into force in 2015) upon ratification.
In November 2018, Singapore’s parliament passed a bill to apply the goods and services tax (GST) to digital service supplies beginning January 1, 2020. The current GST rate of seven percent is scheduled to increase to nine percent between 2021 and 2025. Currently, GST is not applied to services provided by a foreign-based digital service supplier with no presence in Singapore. Other recent changes in Singapore’s taxation regime include an extension of the Writing Down Allowance for acquisition of qualifying Intellectual Property Rights. In the 2019 budget, Singapore revised the quantum of GST import relief for travelers for the value of goods bought overseas. Singapore plans to initiate a carbon tax in 2019 by pricing carbon at approximately USD 3.61 (5 Singaporean dollars) per metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 to 2023. The initial pricing level for the first five years was designed to provide companies with a transition period to adjust to the law. Singapore will review the rate by 2023 and intends to increase the pricing level between USD 7.30 to USD 10.95 (10 to 15 Singaporean dollars) per metric ton by 2030. At that time, Singapore will take into account its economic competitiveness, international environmental developments and Singapore’s progress towards its environmental goals. Instead of imposing differing taxes on specific sectors, Singapore opted for a simple carbon tax with no exemptions. Despite new tax announcements, the Government of Singapore pledged to “extend and strengthen” tax incentives to enhance business competitiveness.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Transparency Policies and Non-Discrimination:
The government establishes clear rules that foster competition. The USSFTA enhances transparency by requiring regulatory authorities to consult with interested parties before issuing regulations, and to provide advance notice and comment periods for proposed rules, as well as to publish all regulations. Singapore’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.
Formal Regulatory Authority and Processes:
Rule-making authority is vested in the Parliament to pass laws that determine the regulatory scope, purpose, rights and powers of the regulator and the legal framework for the industry. Regulatory authority is vested in government statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as Acts in parliament, and report to a specific Ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of Parliament also confer certain powers on a Minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the Act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.
National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.
Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the Cabinet for the proposed bill. The Legislation Division of AGC advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries. Proposed draft legislative amendments are released for public or private consultation. Thereafter, approval from the Ministry of Law is required, followed by the Cabinet’s approval, before the bill can be introduced in Parliament. All Bills passed by Parliament (with some exceptions) must be forwarded to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the Bill does the Bill become law (i.e. an Act of Parliament).
While ministries or regulatory agencies do conduct internal impact assessments of proposed regulations, there are no criteria used for determining which proposed regulations are subjected to an impact assessment, and there are no specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines. There is no independent agency tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments and distributing findings to the public. The Ministry of Finance publishes a biennial Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (http://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR). It focuses on broad outcomes and indicators rather than policy evaluation. Results of scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted in review of policies and regulations are not made publicly available.
Informal Regulatory Processes:
Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance. (ASAS), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore, administers the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which focuses on ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, and truthful. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange (SGX) Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code. Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code, and, if their practices vary from any provisions of the Code, they must note the reason for the variation and explain how the practices they have adopted are consistent with the intent of the relevant principle. The SGX plays the role of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in listings, market surveillance, and member supervision to uphold the integrity of the market and ensure participants’ adherence to trading and clearing rules. There have been no reports of discriminatory practices aimed at foreign investors.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures:
Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons ( ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies listed on the Singapore Exchange or SFRS(1), Singapore Financial Reporting Standards, are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(1). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are aligned with those of IASB. For the use of foreign accounting standards, the companies are required to seek approval of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).
For foreign companies with primary listings on the Singapore Exchange, the SGX Listing Rules allow the use of alternative standards such as International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP). Accounts prepared in accordance with IFRS U.S. GAAP need not be reconciled to SFRS(1). Companies with secondary listings on the Singapore Exchange need only reconcile their accounts to SFRS(1), IFRS, or U.S. GAAP.
Notices of proposed legislation to be considered by Parliament are published, including the text of the laws, the dates of the readings, and whether or not the laws eventually pass. The government has established a centralized Internet portal (www.reach.gov.sg) to solicit feedback on selected draft legislation and regulations, a process that is being used with increasing frequency. There is no stipulated consultative period. Results of consultations are usually consolidated and published on relevant websites. As noted in the “Openness to Foreign Investment” section, some U.S. companies, in particular in the telecommunications and media sectors, are concerned about the government’s lack of transparency in its regulatory and rule-making process. However, many U.S. firms report they have opportunities to weigh in on pending legislation that affects their industries. These mechanisms also apply to investment laws and regulations.
Online Regulatory Disclosure:
The Parliament of Singapore website ( ) publishes a database of all Bills introduced, read, and passed in Parliament in chronological order as of 2006. The contents are the actual draft texts of the proposed legislation/legislative amendments. All statutes are also publicly available in the Singapore Statutes Online website ( ). However, there is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Regulatory actions are published separately on websites of Statutory Boards.
Transparency Enforcement Mechanisms:
Enforcement of regulatory offences is governed by both Acts of Parliament and subsidiary legislation. Enforcement powers of government statutory bodies are typically enshrined in the Act of Parliament constituting that statutory body. There is accountability to Parliament for enforcement action through Question Time, where Members of Parliament may raise questions with the Ministers on their respective Ministries’ responsibilities.
Singapore’s judicial system and courts serve as the oversight mechanism in respect of executive action (such as the enforcement of regulatory offences) and dispense justice based on law. The Supreme Court is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, and hears both civil and criminal matters. The Chief Justice heads the Judiciary. The President appoints the Chief Justice, the Judges of Appeal and the Judges of the High Court if he, acting at his discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.
No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors have been announced. The Monetary Authority of Singapore stated focus in enforcement is on timely disclosure of corporate information, business conduct of financial advisors, compliance with anti-money laundering/combatting the financing of terrorism requirements, deterring stock market abuse, and insider trading as of March 2019. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report that details enforcement actions over previous periods.
International Regulatory Considerations
Singapore was the 2018 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is working towards the 2025 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint aimed at achieving a single market and production base, with a free flow of goods, services, and investment within the region. While ASEAN is working towards regulatory harmonization, there are no regional regulatory systems in place; instead, ASEAN agreements and regulations are enacted through each ASEAN Member State’s domestic regulatory system.
The WTO’s 2016 trade policy review notes that Singapore’s guiding principle for standardization is to align national standards with international standards, and Singapore is an elected member of the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Councils. Singapore encourages the direct use of international standards whenever possible. Singapore Standards (SS) are developed when there is no appropriate international standard equivalent, or when there is a need to customize standards to meet domestic requirements. At the end of 2015, Singapore had a stock of 553 SS, about 40 percent of which were references to international standards. Enterprise Singapore, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are the three national enquiry points under the TBT Agreement. There are no known reports of omissions in reporting to TBT.
A non-exhaustive list of major international norms and standards referenced or incorporated into the country’s regulatory systems include Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPs) project, Common Reporting Standards (CRS), Basel III, EU Dual-Use Export Control Regulation, 27 International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on labor rights and governance, UN conventions, and WTO agreements.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2019 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall 13th in the world, 1st on order and security, 3rd on regulatory enforcement, 3rd in absence of corruption, 5th on civil and criminal justice, 27th on constraints on government powers, 25th on open government, and 30th on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked 2nd in the world in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business sub-indicator on contract enforcement which measures speed, cost, and quality of judicial processes to resolve a commercial dispute. The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch and the executive does not interfere in judiciary matters.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Singapore strives to promote an efficient, business-friendly regulatory environment. Tax, labor, banking and finance, industrial health and safety, arbitration, wage, and training rules and regulations are formulated and reviewed with the interests of both foreign investors and local enterprises in mind. Starting in 2005, a Rules Review Panel, comprising senior civil servants, began overseeing a review of all rules and regulations; this process will be repeated every five years. A Pro-Enterprise Panel of high-level public sector and private sector representatives examines feedback from businesses on regulatory issues and provides recommendations to the government.
The Cybersecurity Act, which came into force in August 2018, establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework for cybersecurity. The Act provides the Commissioner of Cyber Security with powers to investigate, prevent, and assess the potential impact of cyber security incidents and threats in Singapore. These can include requiring persons and organizations to provide requested information, requiring the owner of a computer system to take any action to assist with cyber investigations, directing organizations to remediate cyber incidents, and, if safeguards have been met, authorizing officers to enter premises, and installing software and take possession of computer systems to prevent serious cyber-attacks in the event of severe threat. The Act also establishes a framework for the designation and regulation of Critical Information Infrastructure (CII). Requirements for CII owners include a mandatory incident reporting regime, regular audits and risk assessments, and participation in national cyber security stress tests. In addition, the Act will establish a regulatory regime for cyber security service providers and required licensing for penetration testing and managed security operations center (SOC) monitoring services. U.S. business chambers have expressed concern about the effects of licensing and regularly burdens on compliance costs, insufficient checks and balances on the investigatory powers of the authorities, and the absence of a multidirectional cyber threat sharing framework that includes protections from liability.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and is tasked with administering and enforcing the Competition Act. The Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act was enacted in 2004 in accordance with U.S-Singapore FTA commitments, which contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore’s GLCs will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the FTA.
In September 2018, CCCS issued an infringement decision against Grab and Uber in relation to the sale of Uber’s Southeast Asia business to the private-hire transport company Grab, which led to a substantial lessening of competition in the provision of ride-hailing platform services in Singapore. Combined financial penalties of USD 9.5 million were imposed on Grab and Uber. A spokesperson for Uber said it believed the decision was based on an “inappropriately narrow definition of the market.” Uber will also be required to sell its car rental business to any rival that makes a reasonable offer and will not be allowed to sell those vehicles to Grab. Uber will have its appeal of the ruling heard in the second half of 2019.
In January 2018 CCCS imposed record financial penalties of USD 14.8 million (SUSD 19.6 million) against five Japanese capacitor manufacturers for price-fixing and the exchange of confidential sales, distribution and pricing information for Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors.
Expropriation and Compensation
Singapore has not expropriated foreign owned property and has no laws that force foreign investors to transfer ownership to local interests. Singapore has signed investment promotion and protection agreements with a wide range of countries. These agreements mutually protect nationals or companies of either country against certain non-commercial risks, such as expropriation and nationalization and remain in effect unless otherwise terminated. The USSFTA contains strong investor protection provisions relating to expropriation of private property and the need to follow due process; provisions are in place for an owner to receive compensation based on fair market value. No disputes are pending.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID convention) and the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards (1958 New York Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID convention in 1968. Singapore acceded to the 1958 New York Convention in August 1986 and gave effect to it via the International Arbitration Act (IAA). The 1958 New York Convention is annexed to the IAA as the Second Schedule. Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention. ( )
Domestic arbitration in Singapore is governed by the Arbitration Act (Cap 10). The Arbitration Act was enacted to align the laws applicable to domestic arbitration with the Model Law.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to this Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. ( ) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 1959 New York Convention.
Singapore has had no investment disputes with U.S. persons or other foreign investors in the past ten years that have proceeded to litigation. Any disputes settled by arbitration/mediation would remain confidential. There have been no claims made by U.S. investors under the USSFTA. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Dispute resolution (DR) institutions include the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA). Singapore’s extensive dispute resolution institutions and integrated dispute resolution facilities at Maxwell Chambers have contributed to its development as a regional hub for alternative disputes mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration. On average, it takes approximately eight weeks to enforce an arbitration award rendered in Singapore, from filing an application to a writ of execution attaching assets (assuming there is no appeal), and seven weeks for a foreign award.
Arbitral awards in Singapore, for either domestic or international arbitration, are legally binding and enforceable in Singapore domestic courts, as well as in jurisdictions that have ratified the 1958 New York Convention.
The International Arbitration Act (IAA) regulates international arbitrations in Singapore. Domestic arbitrations are regulated by the Arbitration Act (AA). The IAA is heavily based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, with a few significant differences. For example, arbitration agreements must be in writing. This requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the content is recorded in any form, including electronic communication, regardless of whether the arbitration agreement was concluded orally, by conduct, or by other means (e.g. an arbitration clause in a contract or a separate agreement can be incorporated into a contract by reference). The AA is also primarily based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. There have been no reported complaints about the partiality or transparency of court processes in investment and commercial disputes.
Singapore has bankruptcy laws allowing both debtors and creditors to file a bankruptcy claim. Singapore is ranked number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time and cost of proceedings, it did not score highly in the creditor participation and reorganization sub-indexes. In particular, the insolvency framework does not require approval by the creditors for sale of substantial assets of the debtor or approval by the creditors for selection or appointment of the insolvency representative.
Singapore has made several reforms to enhance corporate rescue and restructuring processes, including features from Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Amendments to the Companies Act, which came into force in May 2017, include additional disclosure requirements by debtors, rescue financing provisions, provisions to facilitate the approval of pre-packaged restructurings, increased debtor protections, and cram-down provisions that will allow a scheme to be approved by the court even if a class of creditors oppose the scheme, provided the dissenting class of creditors are not unfairly prejudiced by the scheme.
In October 2018, the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act was passed and will go into effect in the first half of 2019. It updates the insolvency legislation and introduces a significant number of new provisions, particularly with respect to corporate insolvency. It mandates licensing, qualifications, standards, and disciplinary measures for insolvency practitioners. It also includes standalone voidable transaction provisions for corporate insolvency and, a new wrongful trading provision. The Act allows ‘out of court’ commencement of judicial management, permits judicial managers to assign the proceeds of certain insolvency related claims, restricts the operation of contractual ‘ipso facto clauses’ upon the commencement of certain restructuring and insolvency procedures, and modifies the operation of the scheme of arrangement cross class ‘cram down’ power.
Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and DP Credit Bureau Pte Ltd. U.S. industry advocates enhancements to Singapore’s credit bureau system, in particular, adoption of an open admission system for all lenders, including non-banks. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Singapore.
4. Industrial Policies
Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment into Singapore ( ). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development, and works with international businesses, both foreign and local, by providing information, connection to partners, and access to government incentives for their investments. The Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s lead public sector agency focused on economic-oriented research to advance scientific discovery and innovative technology. ( ) The National Research Foundation (NRF) provides competitive grants for applied research through an integrated grant management system, ( ). Various government agencies (including Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), NRF, and EDB,) provide venture capital co-funding for startups and commercialization of intellectual property.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Singapore has nine free-trade zones (FTZs) in five geographical areas operated by three FTZ authorities. The FTZs may be used for storage and repackaging of import and export cargo, and goods transiting Singapore for subsequent re-export. Manufacturing is not carried out within the zones. Foreign and local firms have equal access to the FTZ facilities.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Performance requirements are applied uniformly and systematically to both domestic and foreign investors. Singapore has no forced localization policy requiring domestic content in goods or technology. The government does not require investors to purchase from local sources or specify a percentage of output for export. There are no rules forcing the transfer of technology. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. The industry regulator is the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
The industry regulator is the Info-communications Media Development Personal data matters are independently overseen by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers and enforces the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) of 2012. The PDPA governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by the private sector and covers both electronic and non-electronic data.
Singapore is currently reviewing the PDPA to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving needs of businesses and individuals in a digital economy such as introducing an enhanced framework for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data and a mandatory breach notification regime.
Singapore does not have a data localization policy. Singapore participates in various regional and international frameworks that promote interoperability and harmonization of rules to facilitate cross-border data flows. The ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance is one example. Another is Singapore’s participation in the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors (PRP) systems, to facilitate data transfers for certified organizations across APEC economies.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Property rights and interests are enforced in Singapore. Residents have access to mortgages and liens, with reliable recording of properties. In the 2018 World Bank Doing Business Report, Singapore ranks first in the world in enforcing contracts and number 21st in registering property.
Foreigners are not allowed to purchase public housing (HDB) in Singapore, and prior approval from the Singapore Land Authority is required to purchase landed residential property and residential land for development. Foreigners are allowed to purchase non-landed, private sector housing (e.g. condominiums or any unit within a building) without the need to obtain prior approval, however they are not allowed to acquire all the apartments or units in s development without prior approval. These restrictions also apply to foreign companies.
There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of industrial and commercial real estate. In December 2011, the government enacted an additional effective ten percent tax, or Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD), on foreigners who purchase homes in Singapore. In July 2018 the government raised the ABSD to 20 percent; however, U.S. citizens are accorded national treatment under the FTA, meaning only second and subsequent purchases of residential property will be subject to 12 and 15 percent ABSD, equivalent to Singaporean citizens.
The availability of covered bond legislation under MAS Notice 648 has provided an incentive for Singapore financial institutions to issue covered bonds. Under Notice 648, only a bank incorporated in Singapore may issue covered bonds. The three main Singapore banks: DBS, OCBC, and UOB, all have in place covered bond programs, with the majority of issues being private placements. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repo transactions with the central bank and to increase the encumbrance limit, currently at four percent. ( )
Intellectual Property Rights
Singapore has developed one of the strongest intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes in Asia and has brought its IPR laws in line with international standards. However, some businesses have expressed concern in certain areas such as business software piracy, online piracy, and enforcement.
The Patents (Amendment) Act will close the foreign route for examination which allows granting of a patent based on a search and examination results of a foreign patent office with effect from January 1, 2020. All patent applications must be fully examined by Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure that granted patents fully satisfy Singapore’s patentability criteria. The Registered Designs (Amendment) Act broadens the scope of registered designs to include virtual designs and color as a design feature, and will stipulate the default owner of designs to be the designer of a commissioned design, rather than the commissioning party.
The USSFTA ensures that government agencies will not grant regulatory approvals to patent- infringing products, but Singapore does allow parallel imports. Under the Patents Act, with regards to pharmaceutical products, the patent owner has the right to bring an action to stop an importer of “grey market goods” from importing the patent owner’s patented product, provided that the product has not previously been sold or distributed in Singapore. If the conditions are met, the importation results in a breach of contract between the proprietor of the patent and any person licensed by the proprietor of the patent to distribute the product outside Singapore and the importer has knowledge of such.
The USSFTA ensures protection of test data and trade secrets submitted to the government for regulatory approval purposes. Disclosure of such information is prohibited. Such data may not be used for approval of the same or similar products without the consent of the party who submitted the data for a period of five years from the date of approval of the pharmaceutical product and ten years from the date of approval of an agricultural chemical. Singapore has no specific legislation concerning protection of trade secrets. Instead, it protects investors’ commercially valuable proprietary information under common law by the Law of Confidence as well as legislation such as the Penal Code (e.g. theft) and the Computer Misuse Act (e.g., unauthorized access to a computer system to download information). U.S. industry has expressed concern that this provision is inadequate.
Singapore is a member of the WTO and a party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is a signatory to other international intellectual property rights agreements, including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid Protocol, and the Budapest Treaty. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Secretariat opened a regional office in Singapore in 2005 ( ). Amendments to the Trademark Act, which were passed in January 2007, fulfill Singapore’s obligations in WIPO’s revised Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.
Singapore ranked 10th out of 50 in the world in the 2019 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. The index noted that Singapore’s key strengths include an advanced national IP framework and efforts to accelerate patent examination and grants. The index also lauded Singapore as a global leader in online copyright enforcement. Despite a decrease in estimated software piracy from 35 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2019, the Index noted that piracy levels remain high for a developed high-income country. Lack of transparency and data on customs seizures of IP-infringing goods was also noted as a key area of weakness.
Singapore does not publicly report statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods, and does not score highly on enforcement of physical counterfeit goods, online sales of counterfeit goods or digital online piracy, according to the 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International IP Index. Singapore is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report, or the notorious market report. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, see WIPO’s country profiles at
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The government takes a favorable stance towards foreign portfolio investment and fixed asset investments. While it welcomes capital market investments, the government has introduced macro-prudential policies aimed at reducing foreign speculative inflows in the real estate sector since 2009. The government promotes Singapore’s position as an asset and wealth management center, and asset under management grew 7 percent in 2016 to USUSD 2.1 trillion (SUSD 2.7 trillion)– the latest year for which data are available.
The Government of Singapore facilitates the free flow of financial resources into product and factor markets, and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) is Singapore’s stock market. An effective regulatory system exists to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can access credit, U.S. dollars, Singapore dollars (SGD), and other foreign currencies on the local market. The private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments through banks operating in Singapore. The government respects IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Money and Banking System
Singapore’s banking system is sound and well regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and it serves as a financial hub for the region. Banks have a very high domestic penetration rate, and according to World Bank Financial Inclusion indicators, over 97 percent of persons held a financial account in 2017 (latest year available). According to a 2014 McKinsey Asia Personal Financial Services Survey, the average number of banking products held by the customer is 5.72, while 94 percent of respondents used internet banking via PC or smartphone. Local Singapore banks saw net profits rise 27 percent in the last quarter of 2019. Banks are statutorily prohibited from engaging in non-financial business. Banks can hold 10 percent or less in non-financial companies as an “equity portfolio investment.” As of 2018Q4, the non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of the three local banks averaged 1.5 percent, down from the NPL ratio of 1.7in 2017 Q4. The World Bank records Singapore’s banking sector overall NPL ratio at 1.22 in 2016.
Foreign banks require licenses to operate in the country. The tiered licenses, for Merchant, Offshore, Wholesale, Full Banks and Qualifying Full Banks (QFBs) subject banks to further prudential safeguards in return for offering a greater range of services. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full service banks that are also QFBs have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs) versus 25 for non-U.S. full service foreign banks with QFB status.
Under the OECD Common Reporting Standards (CRS) which has been in effect since January 2017, Singapore-based Financial Institutions (SGFIs) – depository institutions such as banks, specified insurance companies, investment entities, and custodial institutions – are required to establish the tax residency status of all their account holders, collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts and report to tax authorities the financial account information of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has a Competent Authority Agreement (CAA) to exchange the information.
U.S. financial regulations do not restrict foreign banks’ ability to hold accounts for U.S. citizens. U.S. Citizens are encouraged to alert the nearest U.S. Embassy of any practices they encounter with regard to the provision of financial services.
Fintech investments in Singapore doubled in 2018 to USD 365 million. To strengthen Singapore’s position as a global Fintech hub, MAS has created a dedicated Fintech Office as a one-stop virtual entity for all FinTech-related matters to enable FinTech experimentation and promote an open-API (Application Programming Interfaces) in the financial industry. According to Research and Markets, the Singapore mobile wallet and payment market is expected to be worth over USD 40 billion by 2025.
MAS also aims to be a regional leader in the implementation of blockchain technologies to position Singapore as a financial technology center. MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore are prototyping the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for inter-bank clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Two phases have been completed, including a proof-of-concept project for inter-bank payments and software prototypes for decentralized inter-bank payment and settlements. Two spin-off projects are currently under development. ( ).
Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, co-operative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors: crowdfunding, Initial Coin Offerings, payment services and remittance, which remains a small but growing sector. In January 2019, the Payment Services Bill went into effect which will require all cryptocurrency service providers to be licensed with the intent to provide more user protection. Smaller payment firms will receive a different classifications from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructures supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM), securities (MEPS+-SGS, CDP, SGX-DC) and derivatives settlements (SGX-DC, APS).
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The USSFTA commits Singapore to the free transfer of capital, unimpeded by regulatory restrictions. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings and capital, and maintains no significant restrictions on remittances, foreign exchange transactions and capital movements.
Singapore’s monetary policy has been centered on the management of the exchange rate since 1981, with the stated primary objective of promoting medium term price stability as a sound basis for sustainable economic growth. As described by MAS, there are three main features of the exchange rate system in Singapore. MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band. The Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners. The exchange rate policy band is periodically reviewed to ensure that it remains consistent with the underlying fundamentals of the economy.
There are no time or amount limitations on remittances. No significant changes to investment remittance was implemented or announced over the past year.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Government of Singapore has three key investment entities. GIC Private Limited (GIC) is the sovereign wealth fund in Singapore that manages the government’s substantial investments, fiscal, and foreign reserves, with the stated objective to achieve long-term returns and preserve the international purchasing power of the reserves. Temasek is a holding company wholly owned by the Singapore Minister for Finance. Under the Singapore Minister for Finance (Incorporation) Act, the Minister for Finance is a corporate body. The MAS, as the central bank of Singapore, manages the Official Foreign Reserves, and a significant proportion of its portfolio is invested in liquid financial market instruments.
GIC does not publish the size of the funds under management, but some industry observers estimate its managed assets exceed USD 390 billion. GIC does not invest domestically, but manages Singapore’s international investments, which are generally passive (non-controlling) investments in publicly traded entities. The United States is its top investment destination, accounting for 32 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2018, while Asia ex-Japan accounts for 19 percent, the Eurozone 13 percent, Japan 13 percent, and UK 6 percent. Investments in the United States are diversified and include industrial and commercial properties, student housing, power transmission companies, and financial, retail and business services. Although not required by law, GIC has published an annual report since 2008.
Temasek began as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned enterprises, now GLCs, but has since branched to other asset classes, and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2018, Temasek’s portfolio value reached USD 235 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore was 27 percent; 41 percent in the rest of Asia, and 13 percent in North America. As set out in the Temasek Charter, Temasek delivers sustainable value over the long term for its stakeholders. Temasek formerly focused on managing industries to promote economic development, but has since shifted its emphasis to commercial objectives. Temasek has published a Temasek Review annually since 2004. The statements only provides consolidated financial statements, which aggregate all of Temasek and its subsidiaries into a single financial report. Temasek Group’s annual statutory financial statements are audited by a major international audit firm. GIC and Temasek uphold the Santiago Principles for sovereign investments. Singapore is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.
Other investing entities of government funds include EDB Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, and other government statutory boards with funding decisions driven by goals emanating from the central government.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Singapore has an extensive network of government-linked corporations (GLC) that are fully or partially owned by Temasek Holdings, a holding company with the Singapore Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder. Singapore GLCs play a substantial role in Singapore’s domestic economy, especially in strategically important sectors including telecommunications, media, healthcare, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. In addition, the GLCs are also present in many other sectors of the economy, including banking, subway, airline, consumer/lifestyle, commodities trading, oil and gas engineering, postal services, infrastructure, and real estate.
The Government of Singapore is generally opposed to the term GLC and prefers to use the term State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The government emphasizes that whether referring to GLCs or SOEs, the entities operate on an equal basis with both local and foreign businesses without exception. Consolidated figures of total assets, net income, and numbers employed in SOEs) are not publicly available, but Temasek’s domestic asset ownership stake in SOEs is estimated at USD 64 billion. There is no published list of SOEs.
Temasek’s annual report notes that its portfolio companies are guided and managed by their respective boards and management, and Temasek does not direct their business decisions or operations. However, as a substantial shareholder, corporate governance within GLCs typically are guided or influenced by policies developed by Temasek. There are differences in corporate governance disclosures and practices across the GLCs, and GLC boards are allowed to determine their own governance practices, with Temasek advisors occasionally meeting with the companies to make recommendations. GLC board seats are not specifically allocated to government officials, although it “leverages on its networks to suggest qualified individuals for consideration by the respective boards”, and leaders formerly from the armed forces or civil service are often represented on boards and fill senior management positions. Temasek exercises its shareholder rights to influence the strategic directions of its companies but does not get involved in the day-to-day business and commercial decisions of its firms and subsidiaries.
GLCs operate on a commercial basis and compete on an equal basis with private businesses, both local and foreign. Singapore officials highlight that the government does not interfere with the operations of GLCs or grant them special privileges, preferential treatment or hidden subsidies, asserting that GLCs are subject to the same regulatory regime and discipline of the market as private sector companies. Observers, however, have been critical of cases where GLCs have entered into new lines of business or where government agencies have “corporatized” certain government functions, in both circumstances entering into competition with already-existing private businesses. Some private sector companies have said they encountered unfair business practices and opaque bidding processes that appeared to favor incumbent, government-linked firms. In addition, they note that the GLC’s institutional relationships with the government give them natural advantages in terms of access to cheaper funding and opportunities to shape the economic policy agenda in ways that benefit their companies.
The USSFTA contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that GLCs will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the USSFTA. In accordance with its USSFTA commitments, Singapore enacted the Competition Act in 2004 and established the Competition Commission of Singapore in January 2005. The Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices, abuse of dominance, enforcement and appeals process, and mergers and acquisitions.
The government has privatized GLCs in multiple sectors and has not publicly announced further privatization plans, but is likely to retain controlling stakes in strategically important sectors, including telecommunications, media, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. The Energy Market Authority (EMA) is in the midst of fully opening up, from 2018 to the first half of 2019, extending the liberalization of the retail market from commercial and industrial consumers with an average monthly electricity consumption of at least 2,000 kWh to households and smaller businesses. The Electricity Act and the Code of Conduct for Retail Electricity Licensees govern licensing and standards for electricity retail companies.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The awareness and implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore has been increasing since the formation of the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) under the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) network, with the goals of encouraging companies to adopt sustainability principles related to human and labor rights, environmental conservation, and anti-corruption. GCNS facilitates exchanges, conducts research, and provides training in Singapore to build capacity in areas including sustainability reporting, supply chain management, ISO 26000, and measuring and reporting carbon emissions.
KPMG’s 2017 Corporate Responsibility Reporting survey showed that 84 percent of the largest companies in Singapore are fulfilling their corporate responsibility and sustainability reporting responsibilities, which is higher than the global average at 72 percent. KPMG’s survey also noted that climate and environment risks are not adequately recognized or addressed by Singapore companies. Only 17 percent of Singapore companies have set carbon-reduction targets, lower than the global rate of 50 percent. The Government of Singapore notes that in 2018 as part of the Year of Climate Action, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources received more than 500 pledges from companies that have made public commitments toward taking climate action. A 2017 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, awareness is growing and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in 2018 by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of F&B, retail and hospitality companies announced in January 2019 what the WWF calls “the most impactful business response to-date on plastics.” The pact, initiated by WWF and supported by Singapore’s National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.
In January 2019, Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources and MAS released a joint statement welcoming the formation of the Asia Sustainable Finance Initiative. With WWF as secretariat, the initiative seeks to shift Asia’s financial flows towards sustainable economic, social, and environmental outcomes.
In June 2016, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) introduced mandatory, comply-or-explain, sustainability reporting requirements for all listed companies, including material environmental, social and governance practices, from the financial year ending December 31, 2017 onwards. The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) operates a green labeling scheme, which endorses environmentally-friendly products, numbering over 3,000 from 29 countries. The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore in October 2015 encouraging them to adopt sustainable lending practices, including the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into their lending and business practices. Singapore-based banks have been listed in a 2018 Market Forces report on contributions to regional coal-financing.
Singapore has not developed a National Action Plan on business and human rights, but promotes responsible business practices, and encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted CSR principles. The government does not explicitly factor responsible business conduct (RBC) policies into its procurement decisions.
The host government effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws with regard to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. The private sector’s impact on migrant workers and their rights, and domestic migrant workers in particular (due to the latter’s exemption from the Employment Act which stipulates the rights of workers), remains an area of advocacy by civil society groups. The government has taken incremental steps to improve the channels of redress and enforcement of workers’ rights; however, key concerns about legislative protections remain unaddressed for domestic migrant workers. The government generally encourages businesses to comply with international standards. However, there are no specific mentions of the host government encouraging adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, or supply chain due diligence measures.
The Companies Act principally governs companies in Singapore. Key areas of corporate governance covered under the act include separation of ownership from management, fiduciary duties of directors, shareholder remedies, and capital maintenance rules. Limited liability partnerships are governed by the Limited Liability Partnerships Act. Certain provisions in other statutes such as the Securities and Futures Act are also relevant to listed companies. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code of Corporate Governance (the code). Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code and if their practices vary from any provision in the Code, they must explain the variation and demonstrate the variation is consistent with the relevant principle. The Code of Corporate Governance was revised in 2018 and will impact Annual Reports covering financial years beginning on January 1, 2019. The revised code encourages board renewal, strengthens director independence, increases transparency of remuneration practices, enhances board diversity, and encourages communication with all stakeholders. MAS also established an independent Corporate Governance Advisory Committee (CGAC) to advocated good corporate governance practices in February 2019. The CGAC monitors companies’ implementation of the code and advises regulators on corporate governance issues.
There are independent NGOs promoting and monitoring responsible business conduct (RBC). Those monitoring or advocating around RBC are generally able to do their work freely within most areas. However, labor unions are tightly controlled and legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act.
Singapore has no oil, gas, or mineral resources and is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). A small sector processes and rare minerals, and complies with responsible supply chains and conflict mineral principles. Under the new Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework introduced in 2014, it is a requirement for Corporate Service Providers to develop and implement internal policies, procedures and controls to comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations on combating of money laundering and terrorism financing.
Resources to Report Corruption
Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception index ranks Singapore 3rd of 175 countries globally, the highest ranking for an Asian country. The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), and the Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act provide the legal basis for government action by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which is the only agency authorized under the PCA to investigate corruption offences and other related offences. These laws cover acts of corruption within Singapore as well as those committed by Singaporeans abroad. When cases of corruption are uncovered, whether in the public or private sector, the government deals with them firmly, swiftly, and publicly. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, and to political parties. The CPIB is effective and non-discriminatory. Singapore is generally perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in Asia and the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to FDI in Singapore. Singapore is a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
2 Lengkok Bahru, Singapore 159047
+65 6270 0141
10. Political and Security Environment
Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no history of incidents involving politically motivated damage to foreign investments in Singapore. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary government since 1959 and currently controls 83 of the 89 regularly contested parliamentary seats. Singapore opposition parties, which currently hold six regularly contested parliamentary seats and three additional seats reserved to the opposition by the constitution, do not usually espouse views that are radically different from the mainstream of Singapore political opinion.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
As of June 2018, Singapore’s labor market totaled 3.68 million workers; this includes about 1.37 million foreigners, of whom about 84 percent are basic skilled or semi-skilled workers. The labor market continues to be tight, with overall unemployment rate averaging at 2.0 percent the first half of 2018. Local labor laws allow for relatively free hiring and firing practices. Either party can terminate employment by giving the other party the required notice. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) must approve employment of foreigners.
Since 2011, the government has introduced policy measures to support productivity increases coupled with reduced dependence on foreign labor. In Budget 2019, MOM announced a decrease in the foreign worker quota ceiling from 40 percent to 38 percent on January 1, 2020 and to 35percent on January 1, 2021. The quota reduction does not apply to those on Employment Passes which are high skilled workers making above USD 32,000 per year. Singapore’s labor force did not change in size in 2018 and is expected to face significant demographic headwinds from an aging population and low birth rates, alongside restrictions on foreign workers. Singapore’s local workforce growth is slowing, heading for stagnation over the next ten years.
In November 2018, the Infocommunications and Media Development Authority announced a new program to support and scale start-ups in Singapore.
To address concerns over an aging and shrinking workforce, MOM has expanded its training and grant programs to more than 15. In Budget 2019, MOM raised the work-life grant budget from USD 22.2 million to USD 73.8 million. An example of an existing program is SkillsFuture, a government initiative managed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), a statutory board under the Ministry of Education, designed to provide all Singaporeans with enhanced opportunities and skills-capacity building. SSG also administers the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ), a national credential system that trains, develops, assesses and certifies skills and competencies for the workforce.
All foreigners must have a valid work pass before they can start work in Singapore, with Employment Pass (for professionals, managers and executives), S Pass (for mid-level skilled staff), and Work Permits (for semi-skilled workers), among the most widely issued. Workers need to have a job with minimum fixed monthly salary and acceptable qualifications to be eligible for the Employment Pass and S Pass. The minimum monthly salary eligibility thresholds for S Pass will be raised from USD 1,667 to USD 1,819 from January 1 2020. The government further regulates the inflow of foreign workers through the Foreign Worker Levy (FWL) and the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC). The DRC is the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce that a company is allowed to hire, and serves as a quota on the hiring of foreign workers. The DRC varies across sectors. Employers of S Pass and Work Permit holders are required to pay a monthly FWL to the government. The FWL varies according to the skills, qualifications and experience of their employees. The FWL is set on a sector-by-sector basis and is subject to annual revisions. FWLs have been progressively increased for most sectors since 2012.
MOM requires employers to consider Singaporeans before hiring skilled professional foreigners. The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), implemented in August 2014, affects employers who apply for Employment Passes (EP), the work pass for foreign professionals working in professional, manager, and executive (PME) posts. Companies have noted inconsistent and increasingly burdensome documentation requirements and excessive qualification criteria to approve EP applications. Under the rules, firms making new EP applications must first advertise the job vacancy in a new jobs bank administered by Workforce Singapore (WSG) for at least 14 days. The jobs bank will be free for use by companies and job seekers and the job advertisement must be open to all Singaporeans. Employers are encouraged to keep records of their interview process as proof that they have done due diligence in trying to look for a Singaporean worker. If an EP is still needed, the employer will have to make a statutory declaration that a job advertisement with the national jobs bank had been made. Smaller firms with 10 or fewer employees and jobs, which pay a fixed monthly salary of USD 8,857 or more, are exempt from the requirements, which were newly tightened and took effect from July 2018.
Consistent with Singapore’s WTO obligations, intra-corporate transfers (ICT) are allowed for managers, executives, and specialists who had worked for at least one year in the firm before being posted to Singapore. ICT would still be required to meet all EP criteria, but the requirement for an advertisement in the jobs bank would be waived. In April 2016, MOM outlined measures to refine the work pass applications process, looking not only at the qualifications of individuals, but at company-related factors. Companies found not to have a “healthy Singaporean core, lacking a demonstrated commitment to developing a Singaporean core, and not found to be essential to Singapore’s economy and society, will be labeled “triple weak” and put on a watch list. Companies unable to demonstrate progress may have work pass privileges suspended after a period of scrutiny. Approximately 500 companies were placed on the watch-list from 2016 to 2018, and 150 companies exited it after compliance with requirements.
The Employment Act covers all employees under a contract of service, and under the act, employees who have served the company for at least two years are eligible for retrenchment benefits, and the amount of compensation depends on the contract of service or what is agreed collectively. Employers have to abide by notice periods in the employment contract before termination, and stipulated minimum guidelines in the absence of a notice period previously agreed upon, or provide salary in lieu of notice. Dismissal on grounds of wrongful conduct by the employee is differentiated from retrenchments in the labor laws, and is exempted from the above requirements. Employers must notify MOM of retrenchments within five working days after they notify the affected employees to enable the relevant agencies to help affected employees find alternative employment and/or identify relevant training to enhance employability. Singapore does not provide unemployment benefits, but provides training and job matching services to retrenched workers.
Labor laws are not waived in order to attract or retain investment in Singapore. There are no additional or different labor law provisions in free trade zones.
Collective bargaining is a normal part of labor-management relations in all sectors. As of 2016 about 20 percent of the workforce is unionized. Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Almost all unions are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the sole national federation of trade unions in Singapore, which has a close relationship with the PAP ruling party and the government. The current NTUC Secretary General is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Given that nearly all unions are NTUC affiliates, the NTUC has almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consult with unions on both problems, and the Tripartite Panel on Retrenched Workers issues guidelines calling for early notification to unions of layoffs. Data on coverage of collective bargaining agreements is not publicly available. The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) regulates collective bargaining. The Industrial Arbitration Courts must certify any collective bargaining agreement before it is deemed in effect and can deny certification on public interest grounds. Additionally, the IRA restricts the scope of issues over which workers may bargain, excluding bargaining on hiring, transfer, promotion, dismissal, or reinstatement of workers.
Most labor disagreements are resolved through conciliation and mediation by MOM. Since April 2017 the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) under MOM has provided advisory and mediation services, including mediation for labor disputes. Where the conciliation process is not successful, the disputing parties may submit their dispute to the IAC for arbitration. Depending on the nature of the dispute, the Court may be constituted either by the President of the IAC and a member of the Employer and Employee Panels, or by the President alone. The Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) was established under the Employment Claims Act (2016). To bring a claim before the ECT, parties must first register their claims at the TADM for mediation. Mediation at TADM is compulsory. Only disputes which remain unresolved after mediation at TADM may be referred to the ECT.
The ECT hears statutory salary-related claims, contractual salary-related claims and claims for salary in lieu of notice of termination by all employers. There will be a limit of SGD USD 30,000 on claims for cases with union involvement, and SGD USD 20,000 for all other claims. Prior to April 2017, TADM arbitration was available only to those employees covered under the Employment Act who earned less USD USD 3,180 per month for cases of salary arrears, breach of individual employment contracts and payment of retrenchment benefits. In March 2019, MOM announced that 85 percent of salary claims had been resolved by TADM. Salary-related disputes that are not resolved by mediation are covered by the Employment Claims Tribunals under the State Courts. Disputing parties
Industrial disputes may also submit their case be referred to the tripartite Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). The IAC composed has two panels: an employee panel and a management panel. For a majority of dispute hearings, a Court is constituted comprising the President of the IAC and a member each from the employee and employer panels’ representatives and chaired by a judge. In some situations, the law provides for compulsory arbitration. The court must certify collective agreements before they go into effect. The court may refuse certification at its discretion on the ground of public interest.
The legal framework in Singapore provides for some restrictions in the registration of trade unions, labor union autonomy and administration, the right to strike, who may serve as union officers or employees, and collective bargaining. Under the Trade Union Act (TUA), every trade union must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions, which has broad discretion to grant, deny, or cancel union registration. The TUA limits the objectives for which unions can spend their funds, including for contributions to a political party or for political purposes, and allows the Registrar to inspect accounts and funds “at any reasonable time.” Legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act. The law requires more than 50 percent of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to 51 percent of those participating in the vote. Strikes cannot be conducted for any reason apart from a dispute in the trade or industry in which the strikers are employed, and it is illegal to conduct a strike if it is “designed or calculated to coerce the government either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community.” Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before conducting a strike. Although workers, other than those employed in the three essential services of water, gas and electricity, may strike, no workers did so since 1986 with the exception of a strike by bus drivers in 2012. The TUA bars non-citizens from serving as union officers or employees, unless prior written approval is received from the Minister for Manpower.
The Employment Act, which prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA), strengthens labor trafficking victim protection, and governs labor protections. Labor laws set the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, with one rest day each week, and establish a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, with regular inspections designed to enforce the standards. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health (OSH) laws, and implements enforcement procedures and promoted educational and training programs to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents. Changes to the Employment Act took effect on April 1, including for extension of core provisions to managers and executives, increasing the monthly salary cap, transferring adjudication of wrongful dismissal claims from MOM to the ECT, and increasing flexibility in compensating employees working during public holidays (for more detail see ). All workers, except for public servants, domestic workers and seafarers are still excluded from the Employment Act, and additional time-based provisions for more vulnerable employees.
Singapore has no across the board minimum wage law, although there are some exceptions in certain low skill industries. Generally, the government follows a policy of allowing free market forces to determine wage levels. In specific sectors where wages have stagnated and market practices such as outsourcing reduce incentive to upskill workers and limit their bargaining power, the government has implemented Progressive Wage Models to uplift wages. These are currently implementing in the cleaning, security, and landscape sectors. The National Wage Council (NWC), a tripartite body comprising representatives from the government, employers and unions, recommends non-binding wage adjustments on an annual basis. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign firms, and across the private and public sectors. While the NWC wage guidelines are not mandatory, they are published under the Employment Act and form the basis of wage negotiations between unions and management. The NWC recommendations apply to all employees in both domestic and foreign law firms, and across the public and private sectors. The level of implementation is generally higher among unionized companies compared to non-unionized companies.
MOM is responsible for combating labor trafficking and improving working conditions for workers, and generally enforces anti-trafficking legislation, although some workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors are vulnerable to labor exploitation and abuse. PHTA sets out harsh penalties (including up to nine strokes of the cane and 15 years’ imprisonment) for those found guilty of trafficking, including forced labor, or abetting such activities. The government developed a mechanism for referral of forced labor, among other trafficking-in-persons activities, to the interagency taskforce, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower. Some observers note that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor, because they cannot change employers without the consent of the current employer. MOM effectively enforces laws and regulations pertaining to child labor. Penalties for employers that violated child labor laws were subject to fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the violation. Government officials assert that child labor is not a significant issue. The incidence of children in formal employment is low, and almost no abuses are reported.
The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement came into effect on January 1, 2004 and includes a chapter on labor protections. The chapter contains a statement of shared commitment by each party that the principles and rights set forth in Article 17.7 of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up are recognized and protected by domestic law, and each party shall strive to ensure it does not derogate protections afforded in domestic labor law as an encouragement for trade or investment purposes. The chapter includes the establishment of a labor cooperation mechanism, which promotes the exchange of information on ways to improve labor law and practice, and the advancement of effective implementation of the principles reflected in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up.
See the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report (https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/) as well as the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/)
12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Under the 1966 Investment Guarantee Agreement with Singapore, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) offers insurance to U.S. investors in Singapore against currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and losses arising from war. Singapore became a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1998. In March 2019, Singapore and the United States signed a MOU aimed at strengthening collaboration between the infrastructure agency of Singapore, Infrastructure Asia, and OPIC. According to MTI, both countries will work together on information sharing, deal facilitation, structuring and capacity building initiatives in sectors of mutual interest such as energy, natural resource management, water, waste, transportation, and urban development. The aim is to enhance Singapore-based and U.S. companies’ access to project opportunities, while building on Singapore’s role as an infrastructure hub in Asia.
In June 2018, OPIC committed to USD 100 million investment in Singapore-headquartered Quadria Capital, which is an Asian healthcare-focused private equity firm.
Singapore’s domestic public infrastructure projects are funded primarily via Singapore government reserves or capital markets, reducing the scope for direct project financing subsidies by foreign governments.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
|Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$1,151,049||100%||Total Outward*||$601,921||100%|
|British Virgin Islands||$73,509||6.4%||United Kingdom||$37,126||6.2%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$1,238,125||100%||All Countries||$622,315||100%||All Countries||$615,810||100%|
|United States||$361,675||29%||United States||$145,981||23%||United States||$215,694||35%|
|Republic of Korea||$43,049||3%||Japan||$35,706||6%||Germany||$23,567||4%|
|India||$40,616||3%||Republic of Korea||$24,544||4%||United Kingdom||$20,07||3%|
14. Contact for More Information
Economic Unit Chief
27 Napier Road