1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Belize’s government encourages FDI to relieve fiscal pressure and diversify the economy. While the central government is interested in attracting FDI, certain bureaucratic and regulatory requirements impede investment and growth.
There are no laws that explicitly discriminate against foreign investors. In practice, however, investors complain that lack of transparency, land insecurity, bureaucracy, delays, and corruption are factors that make it difficult to do business in Belize.
The Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE; www.belizeinvest.org.bz ) is the investment and export promotion agency. It promotes FDI through various incentive packages and identified priority sectors for investment such as agriculture, agro-processing, fisheries and aquaculture, logistics and light manufacturing, food processing and packaging, tourism and tourism-related industries, business process outsourcing (BPOs), and sustainable energy.
The Economic Development Council is a public-private sector advisor body established to advance public sector reforms, to promote private sector development and to inform policies for growth and development. The Cabinet has also created a Sub–Committee on Investment composed of ministers whose portfolios are directly involved in considering and approving investment proposals. Additionally, there is an Office of the Ombudsman who addresses issues of official wrongdoing.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Belize acknowledges the right for foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in remunerative activities. Foreign and domestic entities must first register their business before engaging in business. They must also register for the appropriate taxes, including business tax and general sales tax, as well as obtain a social security number and trade license.
Generally, Belize has no restrictions on foreign ownership and control of companies; however, foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank of Belize. To register a business name with the government, foreigners must apply with a Belizean partner or someone with a permanent residence. Additionally, persons seeking to open a bank account must also comply with Central Bank regulations. These may differ based on the applicant’s residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local or foreign currency account. Note: many Belizeans perceive foreigners to receive favorable treatment from the government over access to capital during the start-up process.
Foreign investments must be registered and obtain an “Approved Status” from the Central Bank to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency. Investments with “Approved Status” are generally granted permission to repatriate funds gained from profits, dividends, loan payments and interest. The Central Bank also reserves the right to request evidence supporting applications for repatriation.
Some investment incentives show preference to Belizean-owned companies. For example, to qualify for a tour operator license, a business must be majority-owned by Belizeans or permanent residents of Belize (http://www.belizetourismboard.org ). This qualification is negotiable particularly where a tour operation would expand into a new sector of the market and does not result in competition with local operators. The government does not impose any intellectual property transfer requirements.
The Government’s Cabinet Sub-Committee on Investment investigates investment projects which do not fall within Belize’s incentive regime or which may require special considerations. For example, an investment may require legislative changes, a customized memorandum of understanding or agreement from the government, or a public–private partnership. The government assesses proposals based on size, scope, and the incentives requested. In addition, proposals are assessed on a five-point system that analyses: 1) socio-economic acceptability of the project; 2) revenues to the government; 3) employment; 4) foreign exchange earnings; and 5) environmental considerations. The Cabinet Sub-Committee is composed of five cabinet ministers, including the Minister with responsibility for Investment, Trade and Commerce as Chairperson. The other members include the ministers with responsibility for Tourism and Civil Aviation; Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Immigration Services and Refugees; and Natural Resources, along with the Attorney General. There is no statutory timeframe for considering projects as the process largely depends on the nature and complexity of the project.
When considering investment, foreign investors undertaking large capital investments must be aware of environmental laws and regulations. Government requires project developers to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), should a project meet certain parameters such as land area, location, or industry criteria. When purchasing land or planning to develop in or near an ecologically sensitive zone, government recommends that the EIA fully address any measures by the investor to mitigate environmental risks. Developers must obtain environmental clearance prior to the start of site development. The Department of Environment website, http://www.doe.gov.bz has more information on the Environmental Protection Act and other regulations, applications and guidelines.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In the past three years, there has been no investment policy review of Belize by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Belize concluded its third Trade Policy Review in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2017.
BELTRAIDE (http://www.belizeinvest.org.bz ), a statutory body of the Government of Belize, operates as the country’s investment and export promotion agency. Its investment facilitation services are open to all investors – foreign and domestic. While there are support measures to advance greater inclusion of women and minorities in entrepreneurial initiatives and training, the business facilitation measures do not distinguish by gender or economic status.
The Belize Companies and Corporate Affairs Registry (tel: +501 822 0421; email: email@example.com) is responsible for the registration process of all local businesses and companies. This office does not have a public website to provide online services. Belize does not operate a single-window registration process.
Businesses must register with the tax department to pay business and general sales tax. They must also register with their local city council or town board to obtain a trade license to operate a business. An employer should also register employees for social security. The 2020 Doing Business report (http://www.doingbusiness.org ) estimates it takes on average 48 days to start a company in Belize. The same report ranks Belize at 135 of 190 economies, losing ten spots compared to 2019.
Belize does not promote or incentivize outward investments. Its government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. However, the Central Bank places currency controls on investment abroad, with Central Bank approval required prior to foreign currency outflows.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
There are no reports that Government policies, processes and laws significantly distort or discriminate against foreign investors. Nonetheless, some investors have complained of systematic shortfalls including that the regime for incentives did not always meet their needs, that land titles are not always reliable and secure, and that bureaucratic delays or corruption can hinder doing business in Belize.
There are no NGOs or private sector associations that manage regulatory processes. NGOs and private sector associations do lobby on behalf of their members but have no statutory authority.
Regulatory authority exists both at the local and national levels with national laws and regulations being most relevant to foreign businesses. The cabinet dictates government policies that are enacted by the legislature and implemented by the various government ministries. There are also quasi-governmental organizations mandated by law to manage specific regulatory processes on behalf of the Government of Belize, e.g. the Belize Tourism Board, BELTRAIDE, and the Belize Agricultural Health Authority. Regulations exist at the local level, primarily relating to property taxes and registering for trade licenses to operate businesses in the municipality.
Some supra-national organizations and regulatory structures exist. For example, some elements of international trade affecting U.S. businesses are affected by CARICOM treaties, as in the case of the export of sugar within CARICOM.
Accounting, legal, and regulatory systems are consistent with international norms. Publicly owned companies generally receive audits annually, and the reports are in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards and International Standards on Auditing.
Draft bills or regulations are generally made available for public comment through a public consultation process. In many instances, relevant ministries submit draft legislation to interested stakeholders for consultation on potential reforms. Once introduced in the House of Representatives, draft bills are sent to Standing Committees, which then meet and invite the public and interested persons to review, recommend changes, or object to draft laws prior to further debate. The mechanism for drafting bills, enacting regulations and legislation generally apply across the board and include investment laws and regulations. Public comments on draft legislation are not generally posted online nor made publicly available. In a few instances, laws are passed quickly without meaningful publication, public review or public debate.
Government does not generally disclose the basis on which it reviews regulations. Some government agencies make scientific studies publicly available for example studies related to environmental impact assessments.
Some government ministries also make available policies, laws, and regulations pertinent to their portfolio available on their respective ministry websites or Facebook pages. Printed copies of the Belize Government Gazette contain proposed as well as enacted laws and regulations and are publicly available for a subscription fee. Additionally, enacted laws are published free of cost on the website of the National Assembly or Parliament but there is a delay of a few weeks in updating the website.
Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable with regulatory decisions subject to judicial review. The Office of the Ombudsman also may investigate allegations of official wrongdoing but has no legal authority to bring judicial charges. Instead, its report is submitted to the affected Ministry. There have been no regulatory systems including enforcement reforms announced in the last year.
Information on public finance, both the government’s budget and its debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) are widely accessible to the general public, with most documents available online. The Auditor General’s report on government spending, however, is often years delayed.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Belize’s foreign, economic and trade policies vis-a-vis non-members are coordinated regionally. The country’s import tariffs are largely defined by CARICOM’s Common External Tariff. By virtue of its CARICOM membership, Belize is also a party to several treaties. A primary example is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the European Union (EU). The CARIFORUM countries include CARICOM members along with the Dominican Republic. In the wake of Brexit, these countries also signed a CARIFORUM – United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement in March 2019. The latter agreement is expected to come into effect by January 2021or soon after the UK leaves the EU.
Besides CARICOM, Belize is a member of the Central American Integration System (SICA) at a political level but is not a part of the Secretariat of Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) that supports economic integration with Central America. Belize is also a member of the WTO and adheres to the organization’s agreements and reporting system.
The Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) is the national standards body responsible for preparing, promoting and implementing standards for goods, services, and processes. The BBS operates in accordance with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality. The BBS is also a member of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Codex Alimentarius.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Belize Constitution is the supreme law and is founded on the principle of separation of powers with independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative branches of government. As a former British colony, Belize follows the English Common Law legal system, which is based on established case law and precedent. Of particular note, as a member of CARICOM, the highest appellate court of Belize is the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago.
Belize has a written Contract Act, supported by precedents from the national courts as well as from the wider English-speaking and Commonwealth case law. Contracts are enforced through the courts. There are specialized courts that deal with family related matters including divorce and child custody, but no specialized courts to deal with commercial disputes or cases.
The judicial system remains independent of the executive branch for the most part. Case law exists where the judiciary has ruled against the government, and its judgements are respected and authoritative. The highest appellate court exists outside of Belize at the Caribbean Court of Justice, providing a level of independence for the judiciary. Notwithstanding, the current judicial system has some systemic problems – frequent adjournments, delays, and a backlog of cases caused by only a small number of judges and justices.
The government is implementing measures to improve the country’s judiciary. The training of mediators and the introduction of court-connected mediation support alternative methods to dispute settlement. General information relating to Belize’s judicial and legal system, including links to Belize’s Constitution, laws, and judicial decisions are available at the Judiciary of Belize website www.belizejudiciary.org .
Businesses and citizens may appeal regulations and enforcement actions. Regulatory decisions are also subject to judicial review. Judgments by the Belize Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal are available at http://www.belizejudiciary.org . The Caribbean Court of Justice is the final appellate court on both civil and criminal matters. Judgments by the Caribbean Court of Justice are available at http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org .
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The country has an English Common Law legal system supplemented by local legislation and regulations. The legal system does not generally discriminate against foreign investment and there are no restrictions to foreign ownership. The laws stipulate that foreign investment can qualify for incentives; citizens have the right to private property; contracts are legally binding and enforceable, and regulations are subject to judicial review among other provisions favorable to foreign investment.
Major laws enacted or amended are generally available in the National Assembly’s website at www.nationalassembly.gov.bz . For the previous year, these include:
- International Business Companies Act
- International Financial Services Commission Act
- Retired Persons Incentives Act
- Economic Substance Act
- Customs Regulation Act
- Tax Administration and Procedure Act
- Income and Business Tax Act
- Fiscal Incentives Act
- Free Zones Act
There is no “one-stop-shop” website for investment and the laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements related to investors differ depending on the nature of the investment. BELTRAIDE provides advisory services for foreign investors relating to procedures for doing business in Belize and incentives available to qualifying investors. Further information is available at the BELTRAIDE website: http://www.belizeinvest.org.bz
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Belize does not have any laws governing competition, but there are attempts to limit outside competition in certain industries (such as food and agriculture) by levying high import duties.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Government has used the right of eminent domain in several cases to appropriate private property, including land belonging to foreign investors. There were no new expropriation cases in 2019. However, claimants in previous cases of expropriation assert that the Government failed to adhere to agreements entered into by a previous administration. Belizean law requires that the government assess and compensate according to fair market value. Expropriation cases can take several years to settle and there are a few cases where compensation is still pending. Belize nationalized two companies in public-private partnership: Belize Electricity Limited and Belize Telemedia Limited. These actions have each been challenged in the courts and largely resolved.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) was extended to Belize by an act of the United Kingdom when Belize was a colony. After independence, Belize did not ratify the Convention nor is it listed as a contracting state.
The Arbitration Act governs arbitration and expressly incorporates three international conventions into domestic law. These conventions include the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; the Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards; and the New York Convention. A 2013 Caribbean Court of Justice judgment also upheld the Arbitration Act giving effect to the New York Convention in domestic law.
The United Kingdom on behalf of Belize signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID convention) in 1965 and the country has not ratified it.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Belize is signatory to various investment agreements which make provisions for the settlement of investor-state disputes. Belize is also a member of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, as well as a party to two regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA): 1) between CARIFORUM and the EU; and 2) CARIFORUM and the United Kingdom. These regional arrangements make provisions for the settlement of investor-state disputes.
Since Belize is not a party to any Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, investment disputes involving U.S. persons are taken either before the courts or before international arbitration panels.
Over the past decade, the Government of Belize has been involved in approximately five to eight investment disputes with one involving a U.S. company. Most cases were initially entered in arbitration panels, but were eventually appealed either before the U.S. District Court of Colombia or the CCJ. Most of the judgments went against the Government, which has settled the majority and continues to settle other cases.
Local courts are empowered to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government, but these are generally challenged up to the CCJ. The Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act and the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act were passed in 2017, affecting the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards against the government. Essentially, the Crown Proceedings Amendment Act provides that should a foreign judgment be entered against the government, but a court in Belize later declares the judgement “unlawful, void or otherwise invalid”, the foreign judgment would be legally set aside. The Act also provides for hefty penalties of fines and/or imprisonment on a person, individual or legal, seeking to enforce the foreign judgment after being set aside. The Central Bank (International Immunities) Act restates the immunity of the Central Bank of Belize assets “from legal proceedings in other states.” This Act similarly provides for penalties of fines and/or imprisonment on a person, individual or legal, which initiates any such proceedings.
There has not been a history of extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Belize’s Arbitration Act allows the Supreme Court of Belize to support and supervise dispute settlement between private parties through arbitration. In 2013, the Supreme Court also introduced the process of court-connected mediation as an alternative method to dispute settlement between private parties and as a means of reducing costs and duration of litigation.
Local courts are empowered to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral, but these are generally challenged up to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Belize’s highest appellate court.
There are numerous instances of cases involving State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which went before domestic courts with rulings both in favor and against the SOE. Foreign businesses generally consider these rulings fair and impartial.
The Bankruptcy Act of Belize provides for bankruptcy filings. The Act provides for the establishment of receivership, trustees, adjudication and seizures of the property of the bankrupt. The court may order the arrest of the debtor as well as the seizure of assets and documents in the event the debtor may flee or avoid payment to creditors. The Act also provides for imprisonment on conviction of certain specified offenses. The Director of Public Prosecutions may also institute proceedings for offenses related to the bankruptcy proceedings. Note that bankruptcy law in Belize generally outlines actions a creditor may take to recoup his losses. There are bankruptcy protections, but generally not as comprehensive as U.S. bankruptcy law.
Belize ranked 135 of 190 economies in the 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Report. The poor ranking was attributed to low depth of credit information, the lack of a credit bureau and of a collateral registry as well as problems related to payment of debts in situations of bankruptcy. According to this report, a receivership proceeding takes at least two years until the creditor is repaid all or part of the money owed and has a cost of 22.5 percent of the debt. Additionally, the insolvency procedure does not have a good framework to commence operations, to manage debtor´s assets, and to involve creditors in the reorganization proceedings, among others.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Belize’s financial system is small with little to no foreign portfolio investment transactions. It does not have a stock exchange and capital market operations are rudimentary. The government securities market is underdeveloped and the market for corporate bonds is almost non-existent. While foreign investments must be registered at the Central Bank, the government respects IMF Article VIII and does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Additionally, credit is made available on market terms with interest rates largely set by local market conditions prevailing within the commercial banks. The credit instruments accessible to the private sector include loans, overdrafts, lines of credit, credit cards, and bank guarantees. Foreign investors can access credit on the local market. However, the Central Bank must approve the granting of any advance, whether a loan or overdraft, to a locally incorporated company with foreign shareholders or to non-residents.
The Belize Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a state-owned development bank, offers loan financing services in various sectors. To qualify for a loan from DFC, an individual must be a Belizean resident or citizen, while a company must be majority 51 percent Belizean owned. The National Bank of Belize is a state-owned bank that provides concessionary credit primarily to public officers, teachers, and low income Belizeans. NOTE: This Belize Development Finance Corporation is NOT the same as the U.S. re-branded Overseas Private Investment Company (OPIC).
Money and Banking System
A financial inclusion survey undertaken by the Central Bank of Belize in 2019 showed that approximately 65.5 percent of respondents had access to a financial account. Belize’s financial system remains underdeveloped with a banking sector that may be characterized as stable but fragile. The Central Bank of Belize (CBB) (https://www.centralbank.org.bz ) is responsible for formulating and implementing monetary policy focusing on the stability of the exchange rate and economic growth.
Non-performing loans stood at 2.23 percent of total loans at the end of February 2020, significantly below the 5.0 percent threshold. Additionally, the estimated total assets of the country’s largest bank were USD 0.625 billion at the end of February 2020.
Generally, there are no restrictions on foreigners opening bank accounts in Belize. However, persons seeking to open a bank account must comply with Central Bank regulations, which differ based on residency status and whether the individual is seeking to establish a local bank account or a foreign currency account. Foreign banks and branches are allowed to operate in the country with all banks subject to Central Bank measures and regulations. Since 2015, all banks have regained correspondent banking relations. These relationships are still tenuous, with delays in transactions, and fewer services offered at higher costs.
In the last few years, Belize has enacted a number of reforms to strengthen the anti-money laundering and counterterrorism-financing regime, including amendments to the Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act and the International Business Companies (Amendment) Act. In addition, the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee (NAMLC) is headed by the Financial Intelligence Unit with inter-agency support from key financial and law enforcement authorities.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Belize has a stable currency, with the Belize dollar pegged to the United States Dollar since May 1976 at a fixed exchange rate of BZ $2.00 to the USD $1.00.
The Government of Belize has established currency controls, and foreign investors seeking to convert, transfer, or repatriate funds must comply with Central Bank regulations. Foreign investments must be registered at the Central Bank to facilitate inflows and outflows of foreign currency. Foreign investors must register their inflow of funds to obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment and generally are approved for repatriation of funds thereafter. The Central Bank does, however, reserve the right to request evidence supporting applications for repatriation.
There are no changes to investment remittance policies. As mentioned above, foreign investors must obtain an “Approved Status” for their investment and register their inflow and outflow of funds with the Central Bank. There are no time limitations on remittances. Where there is a waiting period, it depends on the availability of foreign exchange, but does not generally exceed 60 days.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Belize does not have a sovereign wealth fund.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Belize generally lacks broad awareness of the expectations and standards for responsible business conduct (RBC). However, many foreign and local companies engage in responsible corporate behaviors, particularly from a social perspective – domestic companies have, in partnership with an NGO or international organization donated profits from a product or service to charity. Companies sponsor, inter alia, educational scholarships, sports related activities, community enhancement projects, or entrepreneurship activities. There is a strong thread of environmental awareness that also impacts business decision-making. BELTRAIDE, in its official public outreach, also promotes civic responsibility, especially in its outreach to entrepreneurs and young aspiring businesspeople.
Several civil society agencies seek to protect individuals and address human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, and environmental concerns but they do not directly engage in promoting or monitoring RBC. There are no formal government measures or policies to promote RBC.
The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints of official corruption and abuse of power. As required by law, the Ombudsman is active in filing annual reports to the National Assembly and investigating incidents of alleged misconduct, particularly of police abuses. This Office continues to be constrained by the lack of enforcement powers, political pressure, and limited resources.
In the area of environment, certain projects require the Department of the Environment’s approval for Environmental Impact Assessments or Environmental Compliance Plans. The Department of Environment website, http://www.doe.gov.bz , has more information on the Environmental Protection Act, various regulations, applications and guidelines.
There are no government measures relating to corporate governance, accounting, and executive compensation standards and RBC policies are not factored into procurement decisions. Opposition party political pronouncements often target official malfeasance in procurement and cronyism in government contracts, but these concerns are historically muted once the opposition takes power. Belize lacks recent cases of private sector impact on human rights and no NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations specifically promoting or monitoring RBC. In recent years, labor unions and business associations have become actively engaged in advocating for stronger measures against corruption.
Belize lacks recent cases of private sector impact on human rights and no NGOs, investment funds, worker organizations/unions, or business associations specifically promoting or monitoring RBC. In recent years, labor unions and business associations have become actively engaged in advocating for stronger measures against corruption.
Belize does not have a highly developed mineral sector and is not a conflict or high-risk country. As such, it does not adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. Belize’s extractive/mining industry is not highly developed, and it does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and/or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
Belize has anti-corruption laws that are seldom enforced. Under the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act, public officials are required to make annual financial disclosures. The Act criminalizes acts of corruption by public officials and includes measures on the use of office for private gain; code of conduct breaches; the misuse of public funds; and bribery. Section 24 of the Act covers punishment for breach, which may include a fine of up to USD $5,000, severe reprimand, forfeiture of property acquired by corruption, and removal from office. This Act also established an Integrity Commission mandated to monitor, prevent, and combat corruption by examining declarations of physical assets and financial positions filed by public officers. The Commission is able to investigate allegations of corrupt activities by public officials, including members of the National Assembly, Mayors and Councilors of all cities, and Town Boards. In practice, the office is understaffed, and charges are almost never brought against officials. It is not uncommon for politicians disgraced in corruption scandals to return to government after a short period of time has elapsed.
The Money Laundering and Terrorism (Prevention) Act identifies “politically exposed persons” to include family members or close associates of the politically exposed person.
The Ministry of Finance issues the Belize Stores Orders and Financial Orders – policies and procedures for government procurement. The Manual for the Control of Public Finances provides the framework for the registration and use of public funds to procure goods and services.
Despite these legislative and regulatory measures, many businesspeople complain that both major political parties practice partisanship bias that affects businesses in terms of receiving licenses, the importation of goods, winning government contracts for procurement of goods and services, and transfer of government land to private owners. Some middle-class citizens and business owners throughout the country have complained of government officials, including police, soliciting bribes. A Select Senate Committee on Immigration deliberated for most of 2017 on such allegations by known members of the ruling United Democratic Party. It concluded its inquiry in December 2017 but has not published its findings and recommendations. Private companies are not required to establish internal codes of conduct. There are few non-governmental institutions that monitor government activities; two of which are: the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). The first is comprised of concerned private citizens; the latter is an umbrella organization comprised of the various Belizean workers’ unions. Environmental NGOs and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry often make statements regarding government policy as it affects their respective spheres of activity. The Government does not provide protection to NGOs investigating corruption.
Private companies are not required to establish internal codes of conduct. There are few non-governmental institutions that monitor government activities; two of which are: the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). The first is comprised of concerned private citizens; the latter is an umbrella organization comprised of the various Belizean workers’ unions. Environmental NGOs and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry often make statements regarding government policy as it affects their respective spheres of activity. The Government does not provide protection to NGOs investigating corruption.
Private companies do not use internal controls, ethics or compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. Bribery is officially considered a criminal act in Belize, but laws against bribery are rarely enforced. Complaints related to government corruption relating to customs, land, and immigration are quite common.
In June 2001, the Government of Belize signed the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Convention on Corruption, which undergoes periodic review as provided for under the Convention. In December 2016, Belize acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) amid public pressure and demonstrations from the teachers’ unions. Government continues to be criticized for the lack of political will to fully implement UNCAC.
Resources to Report Corruption
Office of the Ombudsman
91 Freetown Road
Belize City, Belize
For specific complaints within the police force:
Professional Standards Branch
1902 Constitutions Drive
T: +501-822-2218 or 822-2674
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Singapore maintains a heavily trade-dependent economy characterized by an open investment regime, with some licensing restrictions in the financial services, professional services, and media sectors. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report ranked Singapore as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business. The 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranks Singapore as the most competitive economy globally. The 2004 USSFTA expanded U.S. market access in goods, services, investment, and government procurement, enhanced intellectual property protection, and provided for cooperation in promoting labor rights and the environment.
The government is committed to maintaining a free market, but it also actively plans Singapore’s economic development, including through a network of state wholly-owned and majority-owned enterprises (SOEs). As of February 2019, the top three Singapore-listed SOEs accounted for 13.1 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 into joint ventures or cede management control to local interests, and local and foreign investors are subject to the same basic laws. Apart from regulatory requirements in some sectors (reference Limits on National Treatment and Other Restrictions), eligibility for various incentive schemes depends on investment proposals meeting the criteria set by relevant government agencies. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings or capital. The judicial system, which includes international arbitration and mediation centers and a commercial court, upholds the sanctity of contracts, and decisions are generally considered to be transparent and effectively enforced.
Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead promotion agency that facilitates foreign investment into Singapore (https:www.edb.gov.sg ). 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, such as the recently launched Infrastructure Asia, to ensure that infrastructure and public services remain efficient and cost-competitive.
Exceptions to Singapore’s general openness to foreign investment exist in sectors considered critical to national security, including telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal and 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.
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 Singapore Minister for Finance as its sole shareholder – faces competition in all market segments. However, its main competitors, M1 and StarHub, are also SOEs. In December 2018, Australian telco TPG Telecom launched a free 12-month service, including unlimited data and free local TPG-to-TPG calls. Approximately thirty mobile virtual network operator services (MVNOs) have also entered the market. The three established Singapore telecommunications competitors are expected to strengthen their partnerships with the MVNOs in a defensive move against TPG’s entry.
As of February 2020, Singapore has 70 facilities-based operators and 251 services-based (individual) 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 IP transit, leased satellite bandwidth (VSAT, DVB-IP, satellite TV Downlink, and Satellite IPLC), terrestrial international private leased circuit, and backhaul services. The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) granted Singtel’s exemption after assessing that the market for these services had effective competition. Singapore’s IMDA operates as both the regulatory agency and the investment promotion agency for the country’s telecommunications sector. IMDA conducts public consultations on major policy reviews and provides decisions on policy changes to relevant companies.
To facilitate 5G technology and service trials, IMDA has waived frequency fees for companies interested in conducting 5G trials for equipment testing, research, and assessment of commercial potential. In 2019, IMDA issued a subsequent 5G Call for Proposal to provide for two nationwide 5G networks and smaller, specialized 5G networks. IMDA announced April 29 that Singtel, Singapore’s largest mobile network operator (MNO), and a separate joint venture between StarHub and M1, were awarded rights to build two 5G networks that are expected to provide 5G coverage to more than half the country by the end of 2022, with the goal of full coverage by the end of 2025. These three companies, along with Singapore’s only other MNO, 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 MNOs 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 MNOs 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 and has pushed Singapore’s MNOs to move forward with 5G, 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 (NPPA) 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. The government controls the distribution, importation, and sale of any newspaper and has curtailed or banned the circulation of some foreign publications. Singapore’s leaders have also brought defamation suits against foreign publishers, which have resulted in the foreign publishers issuing apologies and paying damages. Several dozen publications remain prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act, which restricts the import, sale, and circulation of publications that the government considers contrary to public interest. Examples include pornographic magazines, publications by banned religious groups, and publications containing extremist religious views. Following a routine review in 2015, the formerly named Media Development Authority lifted a ban on 240 publications, ranging from decades-old anti-colonial and communist material to adult interest content.
Singaporeans generally face few restrictions on the internet. However, the IMDA has blocked various websites containing 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 run carry correction notifications alongside statements 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 “online falsehoods.” 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. U.S. social media companies have reported being the target of the majority of POFMA cases so far. 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). 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 MDA implemented cross-carriage measures in 2011 requiring pay-TV companies designated by MDA to be Receiving Qualified Licensees (RQL) – currently Singtel and StarHub – to cross-carry content subject to exclusive carriage provisions. Correspondingly, Supplying Qualified Licensees (SQLs) with an exclusive contract for a channel are required to carry that content on other RQL pay-TV companies. In February 2019, the IMDA proposed to continue the current cross-carriage measures. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has expressed concern that this measure restricts copyright exclusivity. Content providers consider the measures an unnecessary interference in a competitive market that denies content holders the ability to negotiate freely in the marketplace, and an interference with their ability to manage and protect their intellectual property. More common content is now available across the different pay-TV platforms, and the operators are beginning to differentiate themselves by originating their own content, offering subscribed content online via PCs and tablet computers, and delivering content via fiber networks.
Streaming services have entered the market, which MPAA has found leads to a significant reduction in intellectual property infringements. StarHub and Singtel have both partnered with multiple content providers, including U.S. companies, to provide streaming content in Singapore and around the region.
Banking and Finance
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates all banking activities as provided for under the Banking Act. Singapore maintains legal distinctions between foreign and local banks and the type of license (i.e. full service, wholesale, and offshore banks) held by foreign commercial banks. As of May 2020, 29 foreign full-service licensees and 99 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 the number of places of business, ATMs, and ATM networks. Additional QFB licenses may be granted to a subset of full banks, which provide greater branching privileges and greater access to the retail market than other full banks. As of May 2020, there are 9 banks operating QFB licenses.
Except in retail banking, Singapore laws do not distinguish operationally between foreign and domestic banks. Currently, all banks in Singapore are required to maintain a Domestic Banking Unit (DBU) and an Asian Currency Unit (ACU), separating international and domestic banking operations from each other. Transactions in Singapore dollars can be booked only in the DBU whereas transactions in foreign currency are typically booked in the ACU. The ACU is an accounting unit that the banks use to book all their foreign currency transactions conducted in the Asian Dollar Market (ADM). This enables additional prudential requirements to be imposed on banks’ domestic businesses in Singapore, while also avoiding undue restrictions on the offshore activities of banks. Following public consultations, MAS initiated a 30-month implementation timeline from February 2017 for the removal of the DBU-ACU divide, which align revisions made to MAS 610 (Submission of Statistics and Returns).
The government initiated a banking liberalization program in 1999 to ease restrictions on foreign banks and has supplemented this with phased-in provisions under the USSFTA, including removal of a 40 percent ceiling on foreign ownership of local banks and a 20 percent aggregate foreign shareholding limit on finance companies. The Minister in charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore must approve the merger or takeover of a local bank or financial holding company, as well as the acquisition of voting shares in such institutions above specific thresholds of 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 of controllers of local banks ensures that this control rests with individuals or groups whose interests are aligned with the long-term interests of the Singapore economy and Singapore’s national interests. Of the 29 full-service licenses granted to foreign banks, three have gone to U.S. banks. U.S. financial institutions enjoy phased-in benefits under the USSFTA. Since 2006, U.S.-licensed full-service banks that are also QFBs, which is only one as of May 2020, have been able to operate at an unlimited number of locations (branches or off-premises ATMs).. 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. Holders of credit cards issued locally by U.S. banks incorporated in Singapore cannot access their accounts through the local ATM networks. They are also unable to access their accounts for cash withdrawals, transfers, or bill payments at ATMs operated by banks other than those operated by their own bank or at foreign banks’ shared ATM network. Nevertheless, full-service foreign banks have made significant inroads in other retail banking areas, with substantial market share in products like credit cards and personal and housing loans.
In January 2019, MAS announced the passage of the Payment Services Bill after soliciting public feedback for design of the bill. The bill requires more payment services such as digital payment tokens, dealing in virtual currency and merchant acquisition, to be licensed and regulated by MAS. In order to reduce the risk of misuse for illicit purposes, it 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. To expand the banking industry, MAS has procured bids for digital online bank licenses, which are set to be announced in June 2020 and begin operation in the middle of 2021.
Singapore has no trading restrictions on foreign-owned stockbrokers. There is no cap on the aggregate investment by foreigners regarding the paid-up capital of dealers that are members of the SGX. Direct registration of foreign mutual funds is allowed provided MAS approves the prospectus and the fund. The USSFTA has relaxed conditions foreign asset managers must meet in order to offer products under the government-managed compulsory pension fund (Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme).
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) under the Ministry of Law oversees the regulation, licensing, and compliance of all law practice entities and the registration of foreign lawyers in Singapore. Foreign law firms with a licensed Foreign Law Practice (FLP) may offer the full range of legal services in foreign law and international law but cannot practice Singapore law except in the context of international commercial arbitration. U.S. and foreign attorneys are allowed to represent parties in arbitration without the need for a Singapore attorney to be present. To offer Singapore law, FLPs require either a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) license, a Joint Law Venture (JLV) with a Singapore Law Practice (SLP), or a Formal Law Alliance (FLA) with a SLP. The vast majority of Singapore’s 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 May 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 that the government can better assess their contribution to Singapore along with the other four firms whose licenses were also extended to 2020. Decisions on the renewal considers the firms’ quantitative and qualitative performance such as the value of work that the Singapore office will generate, the extent to which the Singapore office will function as the firm’s headquarter for the region, the firm’s contributions to Singapore, and the firm’s proposal for the new license period.
A 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
The 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 Tonnes Per Annum (Mtpa) or for three years, whichever occurs first. This also marked the conclusion of the first exclusive franchise awarded to BG Singapore Gas Marketing Pte Ltd.
Beginning in November 2018 and concluding in May 2019, Singapore rolled out the launch of 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 are saving between 20 and 30 percent on their monthly bills. To participate in the Open Electricity Market licensed retailers must satisfy additional credit, technical, and financial requirements set by EMA in order to sell electricity to households and small businesses. There are two types of electricity retailers: Market Participant Retailers (MPRs) and Non-Market Participant Retailers (NMPRs). MPRs have to be registered with the Energy Market Company (EMC) to purchase electricity from the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS) to sell to contestable consumers. NMPRs need not register with EMC to participate in the NEMS since they will purchase electricity indirectly from the NEMS through the Market Support Services Licensee (MSSL). As of April 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 (https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/CoA1967). 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 into certain firms. These sectors include energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, the domestic news media, financial services, legal services, public accounting services, ports and airports, and property ownership. Under Singapore law, Articles of Incorporation may include shareholding limits that restrict ownership in corporations by foreign persons.
Singapore does not maintain 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
Singapore underwent a trade policy review with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016. No major policy recommendations were raised. This was the country’s only policy review in the past four years, with another WTO review expected later in 2020. (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp443_e.htmhttps://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp443_e.htm )
The OECD and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) released a joint report in February 2019 on the ASEAN-OECD Investment Program. The Program aims to foster dialogue and experience sharing between OECD countries and Southeast Asian economies on issues relating to the business and investment climate. It is implemented through regional policy dialogue, country investment policy reviews, and training seminars. (https://www.oecd.org/industry/inv/mne/seasia.htm)
The OECD released a Transfer Pricing Country Profile for Singapore in June 2018. The country profiles focus on countries’ domestic legislation regarding key transfer pricing principles, including the arm’s length principle, transfer pricing methods, comparability analysis, intangible property, intra-group services, cost contribution agreements, transfer pricing documentation, administrative approaches to avoiding and resolving disputes, safe harbors and other implementation measures. (https://www.oecd.org/tax/transfer-pricing/transfer-pricing-country-profile-singapore.pdf)
The OECD released a peer review report in March 2018 on Singapore’s implementation of internationally agreed tax standards under Action Plan 14 of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. Action 14 strengthens the effectiveness and efficiency of the mutual agreement procedure, a cross-border tax dispute resolution mechanism. (http://www.oecd.org/corruption-integrity/reports/singapore-2018-peer-review-report-transparency-exchange-information-aci.html)
The UNCTAD has not conducted an IPR of Singapore.
Singapore’s online business registration process is clear and efficient and allows foreign companies to register branches. All businesses must be registered with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) through Bizfile, its online registration and information retrieval portal (https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/), including any individual, firm or corporation that carries out business for a foreign company. Applications are typically processed immediately after the application fee is paid, but may take between 14 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 of the countries surveyed by IAB.
ACRA (www.acra.gov.sg ) 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 (https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/how-we-help/setting-up.html ) and GuideMeSingapore, a corporate services firm Hawskford (https://www.guidemesingapore.com/).
Foreign companies may lease or buy privately or publicly held land in Singapore, though there are some restrictions on foreign ownership of property. Foreign companies are free to open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency. There is no minimum paid-in capital requirement, but at least one subscriber share must be issued for valid consideration at incorporation.
At GER (ger.co), Singapore’s online business registration process scores 7/10 in Online Single Windows (https://www.bizfile.gov.sg/).
Business facilitation processes provide for fair and equal treatment of women and minorities, and there are no mechanisms that provide special assistance to women and minorities.
Singapore places no restrictions on domestic investors investing abroad. The government promotes outward investment through Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). It provides market information, business contacts, and financial assistance and grants for internationalizing companies. While it has a global reach and runs overseas centers in major cities across the world, a large share of its overseas centers are located in major trading and investment partners and regional markets like China, India, and ASEAN.
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 in parliament, and report to a specific Ministry. Local laws give regulatory bodies wide discretion to modify regulations and impose new conditions, but in practice agencies use this positively to adapt incentives or other services on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of foreign as well as domestic companies. Acts of Parliament also confer certain powers on a Minister or other similar persons or authorities to make rules or regulations in order to put the Act into practice; these rules are known as subsidiary legislation.
National-level regulations are the most relevant for foreign businesses. Singapore, being a city-state, has no local or state regulatory layers.
Before a ministry instructs the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to draft a new bill or make an amendment to a bill, the ministry has to seek in-principle approval from the Cabinet for the proposed bill. The Legislation Division of AGC advises and helps vet or draft bills in conjunction with policymakers from relevant ministries. 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 (PCMR) for scrutiny, and thereafter presented to the President for assent. Only after the President has assented to the Bill does the Bill become law (i.e. an Act of Parliament).
While ministries or regulatory agencies do conduct internal impact assessments of proposed regulations, there are no criteria used for determining which proposed regulations are subjected to an impact assessment, and there are no specific regulatory impact assessment guidelines. There is no independent agency tasked with reviewing and monitoring regulatory impact assessments and distributing findings to the public. The Ministry of Finance publishes a biennial Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (http://www.mof.gov.sg/Resources/Singapore-Public-Sector-Outcomes-Review-SPOR). It focuses on broad outcomes and indicators rather than policy evaluation. Results of scientific studies or quantitative analysis conducted in review of policies and regulations are not made publicly available.
Industry self-regulation occurs in several areas, including advertising and corporate governance. Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), an advisory council under the Consumers Association of Singapore, administers the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which focuses on ensuring that advertisements are legal, decent, and truthful. Listed companies are required under the Singapore Exchange (SGX) Listing Rules to describe in their annual reports their corporate governance practices with specific reference to the principles and provisions of the Code. Listed companies must comply with the principles of the Code, and, if their practices vary from any provisions of the Code, they must note the reason for the variation and explain how the practices they have adopted are consistent with the intent of the relevant principle. The SGX plays the role of a self-regulatory organization (SRO) in listings, market surveillance, and member supervision to uphold the integrity of the market and ensure participants’ adherence to trading and clearing rules. There have been no reports of discriminatory practices aimed at foreign investors.
Singapore’s legal and accounting procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms and rank similar to the U.S. in international comparisons (http://worldjusticeproject.org/rule-of-law-index ). The prescribed accounting standards for Singapore-incorporated companies applying to be or are listed in the public market, Singapore Exchange, are known as Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS(I)), which areidentical 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 (www.reach.gov.sg ) to solicit feedback on selected draft legislation and regulations, a process that is being used with increasing frequency. There is no stipulated consultative period. Results of consultations are usually consolidated and published on relevant websites. As noted in the “Openness to Foreign Investment” section, some U.S. companies, in particular in the telecommunications and media sectors, are concerned about the government’s lack of transparency in its regulatory and rule-making process. However, many U.S. firms report they have opportunities to weigh in on pending legislation that affects their industries. These mechanisms also apply to investment laws and regulations.
The Parliament of Singapore website (https://www.parliament.gov.sg/parliamentary-business/bills-introduced ) publishes a database of all Bills introduced, read, and passed in Parliament in chronological order as of 2006. The contents are the actual draft texts of the proposed legislation/legislative amendments. All statutes are also publicly available in the Singapore Statutes Online website (https://sso.agc.gov.sg ). However, there is no centralized online location where key regulatory actions are published. Regulatory actions are published separately on websites of Statutory Boards.
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 have been announced. 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 (https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/enforcement/enforcement-actions ).
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.
Singapore is signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The WTO reports that Singapore has fully implemented the TFA (https://www.tfadatabase.org/members/singapore ).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Singapore’s legal system has its roots in English common law and practice and is enforced by courts of law. The current judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. In the 2020 Rule of Law Index by World Justice Project , it is ranked overall 12th in the world, 1st on order and security, 3rd on regulatory enforcement, 3rd in absence of corruption, 6th on civil and criminal justice, 29th on constraints on government powers, 26th on open government, and 32nd on fundamental rights. Singapore’s legal procedures are ranked 1st 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.
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 Anti-Trust Laws
The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and is tasked with administering and enforcing the Competition Act. The Act contains provisions on anti-competitive agreements, decisions, and practices; abuse of dominance; enforcement and appeals process; and mergers and acquisitions. The Competition Act was enacted in 2004 in accordance with U.S-Singapore FTA commitments, which contains specific conduct guarantees to ensure that Singapore’s GLCs will operate on a commercial and non-discriminatory basis towards U.S. firms. GLCs with substantial revenues or assets are also subject to enhanced transparency requirements under the FTA. 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. (http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3f833e8e-722a-4fca-8393-f35e59ed1440 )
Domestic arbitration in Singapore is governed by the Arbitration Act (Cap 10). The Arbitration Act was enacted to align the laws applicable to domestic arbitration with the Model Law.
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.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
After Singapore’s accession to the New York Convention of 1958 on August 21, 1986, it re-enacted most of its provisions in Part III of the IAA. By acceding to this Convention, Singapore is bound to recognize awards made in any other country that is a signatory to the Convention. Singapore is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and, under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA), recognizes judgments made in the United Kingdom, as well as jurisdictions that are part of the Commonwealth and with which Singapore has reciprocal arrangements for the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The Act lists the countries with which such arrangements exist, and of the 53 countries that are members of the Commonwealth, nine have been listed. (https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/RECJA1921-N1?DocDate=19990701) Singapore also has reciprocal recognition of foreign judgements with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
Singapore is party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Singapore passed an Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act to implement the ICSID Convention in 1968. ICSID Convention has an enforcement mechanism for arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 arbitration awards rendered pursuant to ICSID rules that is separate from the 1958 New York Convention. Investor-State dispute settlement provisions in Singapore’s trade agreements, including the USSFTA, refer to ICSIID rules as one of the possible options for resolving disputes. Investor-State arbitration under rules other than ICSID’s would result in an arbitration award that may be enforced using the 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 disputes mechanisms. The SIAC is the major arbitral institution and its increasing caseload reflects Singapore’s policy of encouraging the use of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including arbitration.
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.
In October 2018, the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act was passed, 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. https://www.acra.gov.sg/CA_2017/
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 US$2.4 trillion (S$3.4 trillion)– the latest year for which the Monetary Authority of Singapore 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 the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and it serves as a financial hub for the region. Banks have a very high domestic penetration rate, and according to World Bank Financial Inclusion indicators, over 97 percent of persons held a financial account in 2017. (latest year available). 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. The World Bank records Singapore’s banking sector overall NPL ratio at 1.3 in 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 establish the tax residency status of all their account holders, collect and retain CRS information for all non-Singapore tax residents in the case of new accounts and report to tax authorities the financial account information of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has a Competent Authority Agreement (CAA) to exchange the information. As of December 2019, Singapore has established more than 80 exchange relationships, include one 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 $365 million in 2018 to $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 FinTech 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 over 50 innovation labs established by global financial institutions and technology companies.
MAS also aims to be a regional leader in the implementation of blockchain technologies to position Singapore as a financial technology center. MAS and the Association of Banks in Singapore are prototyping the use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for inter-bank clearing and settlement of payments and securities. Two phases have been completed, including a proof-of-concept project for inter-bank payments and software prototypes for decentralized inter-bank payment and settlements. The next two phases will focus on DLT interoperability, including Delivery-versus-Payment (DvP) settlement of payments and securities, and cross-border payments. A fifth phase will then explore the business value of a blockchain-based multi-currency payments network, such as in enabling business opportunities that would benefit or make viable greater cost efficiencies compared to existing systems. (https://www.mas.gov.sg/schemes-and-initiatives/Project-Ubin ).
Alternative financial services include retail and corporate non-bank lending via finance companies, co-operative societies, and pawnshops; and burgeoning financial technology-based services across a wide range of sectors: crowdfunding, Initial Coin Offerings, payment services and remittance, which remains a small but growing sector. In January 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 classifications from larger institutions and will be less heavily regulated. Key infrastructures supporting Singapore’s financial market include interbank (MEP), Foreign exchange (CLS, CAPS), retail (SGDCCS, USDCCS, CTS, IBG, ATM, FAST, NETS, EFTPOS), securities (MEPS+-SGS, CDP, SGX-DC) and derivatives settlements (SGX-DC, APS)(https://www.mas.gov.sg/regulation/payments/payment-systems )
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The USSFTA commits Singapore to the free transfer of capital, unimpeded by regulatory restrictions. Singapore places no restrictions on reinvestment or repatriation of earnings and capital, and maintains no significant restrictions on remittances, foreign exchange transactions and capital movements.
Singapore’s monetary policy has been centered on the management of the exchange rate since 1981, with the stated primary objective of promoting medium term price stability as a sound basis for sustainable economic growth. As described by MAS, there are three main features of the exchange rate system in Singapore. MAS operates a managed float regime for the Singapore dollar with the trade-weighted exchange rate allowed to fluctuate within a policy band. The Singapore dollar is managed against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners. The exchange rate policy band is periodically reviewed to ensure that it remains consistent with the underlying fundamentals of the economy.
There are no time or amount limitations on remittances. No significant changes to investment remittance was implemented or announced over the past year. 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 investments, fiscal, and foreign reserves, with the stated objective to achieve long-term returns and preserve the international purchasing power of the reserves. Temasek is a holding company wholly owned by the Singapore Minister for Finance. Under the Singapore Minister for Finance (Incorporation) Act, the Minister for Finance is a corporate body. The MAS, as the central bank of Singapore, manages the Official Foreign Reserves, and a significant proportion of its portfolio is invested in liquid financial market instruments.
GIC does not publish the size of the funds under management, but some industry observers estimate its managed assets 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 32 percent of GIC’s portfolio as of March 2019, while Asia ex-Japan accounts for 20 percent, the Eurozone 12 percent, Japan 12 percent, and UK 6 percent. Investments in the United States are diversified and include industrial and commercial properties, student housing, power transmission companies, and financial, retail and business services. Although not required by law, GIC has published an annual report since 2008.
Temasek began as a holding company for Singapore’s state-owned enterprises, now GLCs, but has since branched out to other asset classes and often holds significant stake in companies. As of March 2019, Temasek’s portfolio value reached $222 billion, and its asset exposure to Singapore is 26 percent; 40 percent in the rest of Asia, and 15 percent in North America. As set out in 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 provides 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. GIC is a member of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.
Other investing entities of government funds include EDB Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore’s Housing Development Board, and other government statutory boards with funding decisions driven by goals emanating from the central government
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The awareness and implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore has been increasing since the formation of the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) under the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) network, with the goals of encouraging companies to adopt sustainability principles related to human and labor rights, environmental conservation, and anti-corruption. GCNS facilitates exchanges, conducts research, and provides training in Singapore to build capacity in areas including sustainability reporting, supply chain management, ISO 26000, and measuring and reporting carbon emissions.
KPMG’s 2017 Corporate Responsibility Reporting survey showed that 84 percent of the largest companies in Singapore are fulfilling their corporate responsibility and sustainability reporting responsibilities, which is higher than the global average at 72 percent. KPMG’s survey also noted that climate and environment risks are not adequately recognized or addressed by Singapore companies. Only 17 percent of Singapore companies have set carbon-reduction targets, lower than the global rate of 50 percent. The Government of Singapore notes that in 2018 as part of the Year of Climate Action, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources received more than 500 pledges from companies that have made public commitments toward taking climate action. A 2019 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) survey showed a lack of transparency by Singapore companies in disclosing palm oil sources. However, awareness is growing and the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo) has received additional pledges in 2018 by companies to adhere to standards for palm oil sourcing set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A group of F&B, retail and hospitality companies announced in January 2019 what the WWF calls “the most impactful business response to-date on plastics.” The pact, initiated by WWF and supported by Singapore’s National Environment Agency, is a commitment to significantly reduce plastic production and usage by 2030.
In 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 (ABS) has issued voluntary guidelines to banks in Singapore last updated in Jule 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 is 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 responsible business conduct (RBC). Those monitoring or advocating around RBC are generally able to do their work freely within most areas. However, labor unions are tightly controlled and legal rights to strike are granted with restrictions under the Trade Disputes Act.
Singapore has no oil, gas, or mineral resources and is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). A small sector 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.
Singapore actively enforces its strong anti-corruption laws, and corruption is not cited as a concern for foreign investors. Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore 4th 4th of 180175 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. When cases of corruption are uncovered, whether in the public or private sector, the government deals with them firmly, swiftly, and publicly. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials, and to political parties. The CPIB is effective and non-discriminatory. Singapore is generally perceived to be one of the least corrupt countries in Asia and the world, and corruption is not identified as an obstacle to FDI in Singapore. In its 2018 annual review of corruption, Asia, Political, and Economic Risk Consultancy rated Singapore the least corrupt country in the Asian-Pacific Region and praised Singapore authority’s response to a high-level corruption case involving Keppel Offshore & Marine, in which GLC Temasek Holdings holds a 20 percent stake. 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
Contact at a “watchdog” organization:
10559 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 3438 200