Singapore maintains an open, heavily trade-dependent economy. The economy is supported through unprecedented government spending and strong supply chains in key sectors, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s predominantly open investment policies support a free market economy while actively managing and sustaining Singapore’s economic development. U.S. companies regularly cite transparency, business-friendly laws, tax structure, customs facilitation, intellectual property protection, and well-developed infrastructure as attractive investment climate features. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore second overall in “ease of doing business,” while the World Economic Forum ranked Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. Singapore actively enforces its robust anti-corruption laws and typically ranks as the least corrupt country in Asia. In addition, Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index placed Singapore as the third-least corrupt nation globally. The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force in 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 that attracts substantial foreign investment in manufacturing (petrochemical, electronics, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and equipment) and services (financial, trade, and business). 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 2019 totaled USD 288 billion, primarily in non-bank holding companies, manufacturing, finance, and insurance. Singapore received more than double the U.S. FDI invested in any other Asian nation. The investment outlook was positive due to Singapore’s proximity to Southeast Asia’s developing economies. Singapore remains a regional hub for thousands of multinational companies and continues to maintain its reputation as a world leader in dispute resolution, financing, and project facilitation for regional infrastructure development. In 2020, U.S. companies pledged USD 6.9 billion in future investments (over half of all-investment commitments) in the country’s manufacturing and services sectors.
Singapore is poised to attract future foreign investments in digital innovation, pharmaceutical manufacturing, sustainable development, 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 for these technologies. Singapore is also a well-established hub for medical research and device manufacturing.
Singapore relies heavily on foreign workers who make up more than 20 percent of the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic was initially concentrated in dormitories for low-wage foreign workers in the construction and marine industries, which resulted in strict quarantine measures that brought the construction sector to a near standstill. The government tightened foreign labor policies in 2020 to encourage firms to improve productivity and employ more Singaporean workers, and lowered most companies’ quotas for mid- and low-skilled foreign workers. Cuts, which primarily target the service sector and foreign workers’ dependents, were taken despite industry concerns about skills gaps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has introduced more programs to partially subsidize wages and the cost to firms of recruiting, hiring, and training local workers
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 government was committed to maintaining a free market, but also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of state wholly-owned and majority-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of March 31, 2021, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs accounted for 12.3 percent of total capitalization of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Some observers have criticized the dominant role of SOEs 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 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 (See also: 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.
The Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore ( ). EDB undertakes investment promotion and industry development and works with foreign and local businesses by providing information and facilitating introductions and access to government incentives for local and international investments. 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. The EDB maintains 18 international offices, including Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in sectors considered critical to national security, including telecommunications, broadcasting, domestic news media, financial services, legal and accounting services, ports, airports, and property ownership. Under Singaporean law, articles of incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in such entities 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) – majority owned by Temasek, a state-owned investment company with the Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also SOEs. In April 2019, Australian company TPG Telecom began rolling out telecommunications services. Approximately 30 mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The four Singapore telecommunications companies compete primarily on MVNO partnerships and voice and data plans.
As of April 2021, Singapore has 76 facilities-based operators offering telecommunications 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 intellectual property transit, leased satellite bandwidth (including VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing the market for these services had effective competition. 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.
To facilitate the 5th generation mobile network (5G) technology and service trials, IMDA waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential. In April 2020, IMDA granted rights to build nationwide 5G networks to Singtel and a joint venture between StarHub and M1. IMDA announced a goal of full 5G coverage by the end of 2025. These three companies, along with TPG Telecom, are also now permitted to launch smaller, specialized 5G networks to support specialized applications, such as manufacturing and port operations. Singapore’s government did not hold a traditional spectrum auction, instead charging a moderate, flat fee to operate the networks and evaluating proposals from the MVNOs based on their ability to provide effective coverage, meet regulatory requirements, invest significant financial resources, and address cybersecurity and network resilience concerns. The announcement emphasized the importance of the winning MVNOs using multiple vendors, to ensure security and resilience. Singapore has committed to being one of the first countries to make 5G services broadly available, and its tightly managed 5G-rollout process continues apace, despite COVID-19. The government views this as a necessity for a country that prides itself on innovation, even as these private firms worry that the commercial potential does not yet justify the extensive upfront investment necessary to develop new networks.
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 restricts equity ownership (local or foreign) of newspaper companies to less than five percent per shareholder and requires that directors 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 through IMDA. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of media sources and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers and local government critics, 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 IMDA predecessor, 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, which is readily accessible. The government, however, subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA licenses the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing objectionable material, 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 adherence 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 April 2019, the government introduced legislation in Parliament to counter “deliberate online falsehoods.” The legislation, called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) entered into force on October 2, 2019, requires online platforms to publish correction notifications or remove online information that government ministers classify as factually false or misleading, and which they deem likely to threaten national security, diminish public confidence in the government, incite feelings of ill will between people, or influence an election. Non-compliance is punishable by fines and/or imprisonment and the government can use stricter measures such as disabling access to end-users in Singapore and forcing online platforms to disallow persons in question from using its services in Singapore. Opposition politicians, bloggers, and alternative news websites have been the target of the majority of POFMA cases thus far and many of them used U.S. social media platforms. Besides those individuals, U.S. social media companies were issued most POFMA correction orders and complied with them. U.S. media and social media sites continue to operate in Singapore, but a few major players have ceased running political ads after the government announced that it 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). Mediacorp reported that its free-to-air channels are viewed weekly by 80 percent of residents. 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 publicly 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 IMDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011, requiring pay-TV companies designated by IMDA 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 (MPA) has expressed concern 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 personal and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.
Streaming services have entered the market, which MPA 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 April 2021, 30 foreign full-service licensees and 90 wholesale banks operated in Singapore. An additional 24 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 their 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 April 2021, there are 10 banks operating QFB licenses. China Construction Bank received the most recent QFB award in December 2020.
Following a series of public consultations conducted by MAS over a three year period, the Banking Act 2020 came into operation on February 14, 2020. The amendments include, among other things, the removal of the Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and Asian Currency Unit (ACU) divide, consolidation of the regulatory framework of merchant banks, expansion of the grounds for revoking bank licenses and strengthening oversight of banks’ outsourcing arrangements. Newly granted digital banking licenses under foreign ownership apply only to wholesale transactions.
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 MAS 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 5, 12, 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 for 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 30 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, only one U.S.-licensed full-service banks has obtained 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 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.
Credit card holders from 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. 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. In order to reduce the risk of misuse for illicit purposes, the new law also limits the amount of funds that can be held in or transferred out of a personal payment account (e.g., mobile wallets) in a year. Regulations are tailored to the type of activity preformed and addresses issues related to terrorism financing, money laundering, and cyber risks. In December 2020, MAS granted four digital bank licenses: two to Sea Limited and a Grab/Singtel consortium for full retail banking and two to Ant Group and the Greenland consortium (a China-based conglomerate).
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 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 130 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 December 2020, 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 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 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 LSRA will consider all the relevant circumstances including the proposed structure and its overall suitability to achieve the objectives for which Joint Law Ventures 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 Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and 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, of which two are acquired in Singapore. Alternatively, students can attend two years of practical training in architectural works and pass written and/or oral examinations set by the respective board.
Accounting and Tax Services
Many 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 accounting 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 tons per annum 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.
Beginning in November 2018 and concluding in May 2019, Singapore launched an open electricity market (OEM). Previously, Singapore Power was the only electricity retailer. As of October 2019, 40 percent of resident consumers had switched to a new electricity retailer and were saving between 20 and 30 percent on their monthly bills. During the second half of 2020, the government significantly reduced tariffs for household consumption and encouraged consumer OEM adoption. To participate in OEM, licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by Energy Market Authority 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 2020, there were 12 retailers in the market, including foreign and local entities.
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 local 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. All companies incorporated in Singapore, foreign companies, and limited liability partnerships registered in Singapore are also required to maintain beneficial ownership in the form of a register of controllers (generally 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 in 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 a formalized 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
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. The program 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. ( )
Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with 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 could take between 14 to 60 days, 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 in the world.
ACRA ( ) provides a single window for business registration. Additional regulatory approvals (e.g., licensing or visa requirements) are obtained via individual applications to the respective ministries or statutory boards. Further information and business support on registering a branch of a foreign company is available through the EDB ( ) and GuideMeSingapore, a corporate services firm Hawskford ( /).
Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign property ownership. 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.
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. 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, the United States, and ASEAN.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
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.
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 ministries or in statutory boards, which are organizations that have been given autonomy to perform an operational function by legal statutes passed as acts of 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 AGC legislation division advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries. Public and private consultations are often requested for proposed draft legislative amendments. Thereafter, the cabinet’s approval is required 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 for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the bill does it become law.
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 ( ), focusing 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.
Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance. Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) (https://asas.org.sg/), 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.
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 applying to be or are listed in the public market, Singapore Exchange, are known as Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS(I)), which are identical to those of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Non-listed Singapore-incorporated companies can voluntarily apply for SFRS(I). Otherwise, they are required to comply with Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which are also 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 or 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(I), 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 ( ) 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.
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.
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, which is made up of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, 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 she, acting at her discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister.
No systemic regulatory reforms or enforcement reforms relevant to foreign investors were announced in 2020. The Monetary Authority of Singapore focuses enforcement efforts 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. In March 2019, MAS published its inaugural Enforcement Report detailing enforcement measures and publishes recent enforcement actions on its website ( ).
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. While Singapore has expressed interest in driving intra-regional trade, the dynamics of ASEAN economies are convergent.
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 Singapore Food Agency, 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, Exchange of Information on Request, 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 2020 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project, it is ranked overall twelfth in the world, first on order and security, third on regulatory enforcement, third in absence of corruption, sixth on civil and criminal justice, twenty-ninth on constraints on government powers, twenty-sixth on open government, and thirty-second on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked first in the world in the World Bank’s 2020 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. (https://www.mti.gov.sg/PEP/About)
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. Under the law, additional measures, such as the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme, continue to be introduced. Authorities stress that, “in view of the need to strike a good balance between industry development and cybersecurity needs, the licensing framework will take a light-touch approach.”
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry 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 government linked companies (GLC) 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. A 2018 addition to the act gives the CCCS additional administrative power to protect consumers against unfair trade practices.
The most recent infringement decision issued by CCCS occurred in January 2019 when three competing hotel operators, including a major British hospitality company, exchanged “commercially sensitive” information. The operators were fined a total financial penalty of $1.1 million for conduct potentially resulting in reduced competitive pressure on the market. No other cases tied to commercial behavior in 2019 or the first quarter of 2020 have received penalties from CCCS.
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 gives 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.
Singapore is also a party to the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, further referred to as the “Convention.” This Convention provides a process for parties to enforce or invoke an international commercial mediated settlement agreement once the conditions and requirements of the Convention are met. Singapore has put in place domestic legislation, the Singapore Convention on Mediation Bill 2020, which was passed in Parliament on 4 February 2020. On 25 February 2020, Singapore and Fiji were the first two countries to deposit their respective instruments of ratification of the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters. The Convention will enter into force six months after the third State deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance and approval or accession. Singapore’s arbitration center settled a record high number of cases in 2020 and opened a New York City office.
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 the New York 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. The 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 1958 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. The government is investing in establishing Singapore as a global mediation hub.
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 dispute resolution 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.
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 ranks number 27 for resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. While Singapore performed well in recovery rate and time of recovery following bankruptcies, the country did not score well on cost of proceedings or insolvency frameworks. 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.
The Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act passed in 2018, but the expected effective date of the bill has been delayed from the first half of 2019 into 2020. 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. Authorities continue to seek public consultations of subsidiary legislation to be drafted under the act.
Two MAS-recognized consumer credit bureaus operate in Singapore: the Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Experian Credit Bureau Singapore 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
The EDB is the lead investment promotion agency facilitating foreign investment into Singapore ( ). The 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 IMDA, a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information.
In May 2020, Singapore tightened requirements for hiring foreign workers, including raising minimum salary thresholds and additional enforcement of penalties for employers not giving “fair consideration” to local applicants before hiring foreign workers. 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 data 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 (FDFG) is one example. Under FDFG, Singapore will focus on developing model contractual clauses and certification for cross border data flows within the ASEAN region. Another is Singapore’s participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors 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 2020 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 in Singapore, and prior approval from the Singapore Land Authority is required to purchase landed residential property and residential land for development. Foreigners can 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 a development without prior approval. These restrictions also apply to foreign companies.
There are no restrictions on foreign ownership of industrial and commercial real estate. Since July 2018, foreigners who purchase homes in Singapore are required to pay an additional effective 20 percent tax on top of standard buyer’s taxes. 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 additional duties, 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 issues offered to private investors. The banking industry has made suggestions to allow the use of covered bonds in repossession transactions with the central bank and to increase the encumbrance limit, currently at four percent. ( )
Intellectual Property Rights
Singapore maintains one of the strongest intellectual property rights regimes in Asia. The chief executive of Singapore’s Intellectual Property Office was elected director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in April 2020. However, some concerns remain in certain areas such as business software piracy, online piracy, and enforcement.
Effective January 1, 2020, all patent applications must be fully examined by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure that any foreign-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, 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 10 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.
As a WTO member, Singapore is 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 WIPO Secretariat opened a regional office in Singapore in 2005. ( Amendments to the Trademark Act, which were passed in January 2007, fulfilled Singapore’s obligations in WIPO’s revised Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks.
Singapore ranked 11th out of 53 in the world in the 2020 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International Intellectual Property (IP) Index. The index noted that Singapore’s key strengths include an advanced national IP framework and efforts to accelerate research, patent examination, and grants. The index also lauded Singapore as a global leader in patent protection and online copyright enforcement. Despite a decrease in estimated software piracy from 35 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2020, 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 is also noted as a key area of weakness.
Singapore does not publicly report the statistics on seizures of counterfeit goods and does not rate 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 2020 Special 301 Report, but some Singapore-based online retailers are named in USTR’s 2019 Review of Notorious Markets. 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 assets under management grew 5.4 percent in 2018 to USD 2.4 trillion (SD 3.4 trillion) – the latest year for which MAS conducted a survey.
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 MAS, and the country 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). 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.” At the end of 2019, the non-performing loans ratio (NPL ratio) of the three local banks remained at an averaged 1.5 percent since the last quarter of 2018.
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: 1) establish the tax residency status of all their account holders; 2) collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts; and 3) 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. As of December 2019, Singapore has established more than 80 exchange relationships, include with the United States, established in September 2018.
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 rose from USD 365 million in 2018 to USD 861 million in 2019. 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 experimentation and promote an open-API (Application Programming Interfaces) in the financial industry. Investment in payments start-ups accounted for about 40 percent of all funds. Singapore has more than 50 innovation labs established by global financial institutions and technology companies.
MAS also aims to be a regional leader in blockchain technologies and has worked 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. Following a five-year collaborative project to understand the technology, a test network launched to facilitate collaboration in the cross-border blockchain ecosystem. Technical specifications for the functionalities and connectivity interfaces of the prototype network are publicly available. ( ).
Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, cooperative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors including: crowdfunding, initial coin offerings, and payment services and remittance. In January 2020, 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 classification from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructure supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM, FAST, NETS, EFTPOS), 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: 1) MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band; 2) the Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners; and 3) 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 were implemented or announced over the past year. Local and foreign banks may impose their own limitations on daily remittances.
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 foreign 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 Ministry of Finance with investments in Singapore and abroad. 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 may exceed $400 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 34 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2020, while Asia (excluding 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. GIC is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. 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 out to other asset classes and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2020, Temasek’s portfolio value reached $226 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore is 24 percent; 42 percent in the rest of Asia, and 17 percent in North America. According to the Temasek Charter, Temasek delivers sustainable value over the long term for its stakeholders. Temasek has published a Temasek Review annually since 2004. The statements only provide consolidated financial statements, which aggregate all of Temasek and its subsidiaries into a single financial report. A major international audit firm audits Temasek Group’s annual statutory financial statements. GIC and Temasek uphold the Santiago Principles for sovereign investments.
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 full and partial SOEs held under the umbrella of Temasek Holdings, a holding company with the Ministry of Finance as its sole shareholder. Singapore SOEs play a substantial role in the domestic economy, especially in strategically important sectors including telecommunications, media, healthcare, public transportation, defense, port, gas, electricity grid, and airport operations. In addition, the SOEs 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 emphasizes that government-linked entities operate on an equal basis with both local and foreign businesses without exception. 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 government linked companies 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. However, observers 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 Competition 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 is 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 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.
A 2019 World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, there is growing awareness and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of food and beverage, 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 the National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.
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 2729 countries. The Association of Banks in Singapore has issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore last updated in July 2018 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 are listed in a 2018 Market Forces report as major lenders in 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 migrant 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 (“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 revised Code of Corporate Governance will impact Annual Reports covering financial years from January 1, 2019 onward. 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 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 in Singapore processes rare minerals and complies with responsible supply chains and conflict mineral principles. Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework, 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.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory
Department of Labor
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 2020 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore third of 178 countries globally, the highest-ranking 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. 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 the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Singapore. Recent corporate fraud scandals, particularly in the commodity trading sector, have been publicly, swiftly, and firmly reprimanded by the government. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact at a “watchdog” organization:
10559 Berlin, Germany +49 30 3438 200
10. Political and Security Environment
Singapore’s political environment is stable and there is no recent 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. Singaporean 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 mainstream public opinion.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
In December 2020, Singapore’s labor market totaled 3.6 million workers; this includes about 1.4 million foreigners, of whom about 85 percent are basic skilled or semi-skilled workers. The labor market continues to be tight, with overall unemployment rate averaging in the 3.04 percent in 2020. The 2020 budget, announced in February and two subsequent supplementary budgets announced in March and April, provided for substantial wage and training support for all firms during the COVID-19 outbreak. In sectors, such as travel and tourism, the government offered temporary employment or training for workers placed on unpaid leave due to COVID-19. The 2021 budget continues this support, although at lower levels and in a more focused manner, since the government expects overall GDP growth to return. 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 35 percent on January 1, 2021. The quota reduction does not apply to those on Employment Passes (EPs) which are high skilled workers making above $33,100 per year. In Budget 2020, the foreign worker quota was cut further for mid-skilled (“S Pass”) workers in construction, marine shipyards, and the process sectors from 20 to 18 percent by January 1, 2021. The quota will be further reduced to 15 percent on January 1, 2023. Singapore’s labor force fell for the first time in a decade 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.
To address concerns over an aging and shrinking workforce, MOM has expanded its training and grant programs. The government included a number of individual and company subsidies for existing and new programs in the Budget 2020 and 2021, as well as an unprecedented number of supplementary budgets during the COVID-19 outbreak. 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 EPs (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. MOM has increased minimum salaries restricting the ability of some companies to hire foreign workers, including spouses of employment pass holders. 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 can 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, implemented in August 2014, affects employers who apply for EPs, 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 28 days. The jobs bank is free for use by companies and job seekers and the job advertisement must be open to all, including 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 on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg had been made. Smaller firms with 10 or fewer employees and jobs, which pay a fixed monthly salary of $10,609 or more, are exempt from the requirements, which were newly tightened and took effect from July 2018. The minimum fixed salary will be raised to $14,145 on May 1, 2021.
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 on http://www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg 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 “relevant” 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. Since 2016, MOM has placed approximately 1,200 companies on the FCF Watchlist. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices have worked with 260 companies to be successfully removed from the watchlist.
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 periods in the Employment Act 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 2018 about 20 percent of the workforce was 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 Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation 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 provides advisory and mediation services, including mediation for salary and employment 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, dismissal claims from employees, and claims for salary in lieu of notice of termination by all employers. There is a limit of $21,200 on claims for cases with TADM mediation, and $14,100 for all other claims. In March 2019, MOM announced that 85 percent of salary claims had been resolved by TADM between April 2017 and December 2018. Salary-related disputes that are not resolved by mediation are covered by the Employment Claims Tribunals under the State Courts. 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 TUA. The law requires the majority of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to the majority 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, but NTUC threatened to strike over concerns in a retrenchment process in July 2020. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.
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. Other acts protecting the rights of workers include the Occupational Safety and Health Act and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. 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, 2019, 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 covered by 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, elevator maintenance, 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 potential 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 USSFTA includes a chapter on labor protections. The labor 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.
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. Under the agreement, 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.
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. 12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance 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. Under the agreement, 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.
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.
DFC maintains a regional office in Singapore to better coordinate with Southeast Asia’s leading financial institutions but has no projects in Singapore.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
|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||1,465,070||100%||Not Available||Amount||100%|
|United States||297,065||20%||Not Available||Amount||X%|
|Cayman Islands||157,225||11%||Not Available||Amount||X%|
|British Virgin Islands||107,393||7%||Not Available||Amount||X%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||1,421,608||100%||All Countries||681,831||100%||All Countries||739,777||100%|
|United States||376,454||26%||United States||137,354||20%||United States||239,100||32%|
|Republic of Korea||60,368||4%||Japan||39,856||6%||Korea||33,534||5%|
|India||53,899||4%||Cayman Islands||38,030||6%||United Kingdom||23,488|
14. Contact for More Information
27 Napier Road
Singapore 258508 +65 9069-8592