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. (http://www.oecd.org/countries/singapore/seasia.htm )
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. (http://www.oecd.org/countries/singapore/transfer-pricing-country-profile-singapore.pdf )
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 (http://bizfile.gov.sg ), 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 (https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/how-we-help/setting-up.html ). 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.
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. Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (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 (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index ). 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 (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/publications/bills-introduced ) 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 (https://sso.agc.gov.sg ). 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.
Singapore is signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The WTO reports that Singapore has fully implemented the TFA (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/singapore ).
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. (http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f833e8e-722a-4fca-8393-f35e59ed1440 )
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. (http://www.lawgazette.com.sg/2001-8/Aug01-focus4.htm ) 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. https://www.acra.gov.sg/CA_2017/