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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - Singapore


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The Republic of Singapore sits 137 kilometres north of the equator, separated from Malaysia by the Strait of Johor and from Indonesia by the Strait of Singapore. Singapore is made up of the main island, which is 42 kilometres long by 23 kilometres wide, and 63 surrounding islets. The highest point is 163 metres at Bukit Timah Peak. Singapore has a total area of approximately 712 square kilometres.

Singapore's equatorial climate is warm and humid, with an average daytime temperature of 31ºC and a minimum average of 23 ºC at night. The country receives an average of 2.3 metres of rain annually, and has two annual monsoon seasons from December to early March and from June to September.


The total population of Singapore is 5.18 million (2011 data). This figure includes approximately 1.4 million foreigners. The three major ethnic groups within the local community are Chinese (74 per cent), Malay (13 per cent) and Indians (9 per cent). Singapore has four official languages: Chinese (Mandarin), English, Malay and Tamil. English is the language of administration and commerce and is widely spoken across the island.

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Singapore is a republic, with a parliamentary system of government and an elected President as the Head of State. The Singapore Parliament has a single house, which is elected by general election every five years. The Parliament and the President of Singapore are known as the Legislature. Parliament first sat on 8 December 1965, with the first general election on 13 April 1968. The Twelfth Parliament has 99 Members of Parliament (MP), consisting of 87 elected MPs, three non-constituency MPs and nine nominated MPs who represent various professional and business sectors.  As a result of changes announced by Prime Minister Lee on 27 May 2009, opposition MPs are guaranteed a minimum of nine seats in parliament.  The judiciary administers the law independently of the Executive.

The People's Action Party (PAP) dominates Singapore's political scene and has held power since 1959, winning thirteen successive general elections. The last general election was held on 7 May 2011 with PAP winning 81 of the 87 elected seats in parliament. The nine opposition members in the current Parliament include six elected MPs and three unelected non-constituency MPs.   

Prior to 1991, the President was appointed by Parliament. In January 1991, the Constitution was amended to allow Singapore's citizens to elect the President for six year terms. Although the position remains largely ceremonial, under the amended Constitution, the President has certain executive powers such as the making appointments to public office. The 1991 constitutional amendment also provided for the establishment of a Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA). The President must consult the CPA before performing certain functions, such as vetoing government budgets.

The first presidential election was held on 28 August 1993. The first elected President was HE Mr Ong Teng Cheong. The current and third elected President, HE Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam was sworn in on 1 September 2011 to serve a six year term following a presidential election on 27 August.  The 2011 presidential election was closely contested and the four candidate race was eventually decided by 0.34 per cent (7,382 votes) of the 2.15 million votes cast.

The President appoints the Prime Minister who, in his judgement, is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament.  In practice the leader of the political party with the most seats in Parliament is Prime Minister. Singapore's current Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, assumed the post in August 2004 and won his first election in 2006. He was re-elected in 2011. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the President appoints other Ministers from among the MPs to form the Cabinet. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are answerable to the Parliament.

The Cabinet is responsible for all government policies and the day-to-day administration of the affairs of state. It comprises the Prime Minister, two Deputy Prime Ministers (the current Deputy Prime Ministers are concurrently the Co-ordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Finance and Manpower respectively), two Ministers in the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministers for: Community Development, Youth and Sport; Education; the Environment and Water Resources; Defence; Foreign Affairs and Law; Health; Information, Communications and the Arts; National Development; Trade and Industry; and Transport.

Foreign policy

Membership of the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) is the cornerstone of Singapore's foreign policy.  Active membership of ASEAN is seen by the Singaporean Government as a means to enhance its own economic competitiveness and provide the region with a strong platform to engage key international players, especially the US and China.  Singapore is strongly committed to achieving an ASEAN Community by 2015.  Singapore also sees strengthening its already good relations with its immediate neighbours, Indonesia and Malaysia, as a key foreign policy priority.  Singapore supports a strong, cohesive and effective United Nations (UN) that is responsible to the needs of its members. It completed a two-year term as a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council in December 2002. Singapore is a key member of the 3G Global Governance Group which has a development focus and aims to hold the G20 accountable to the general UN membership. Singapore has been a member of the Commonwealth since gaining independence in 1965 and hosted the first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1971. 

To build links between East Asia and Latin America, Singapore instigated the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) in 1999.  Singapore is also a member of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Indian Ocean Rim – Association for Regional Co-Operation (IOR-ARC), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and East Asia Summit (EAS) among other bodies.

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Singapore is an important hub for the South-East Asian region. It has traditionally had a dynamic economy, with strong service and manufacturing sectors, and one of the highest per capita gross domestic products (GDP) in the world. Its airport, port and road systems are among the best in the world. Singapore's economy has always depended on international trade. Its major industries include electronics, financial services, oil drilling equipment, petroleum refining, pharmaceutical manufacturing, processed food and beverages, rubber products and ship repair. In recent years, the Government has moved to reduce reliance on the manufacture and export of electronics by developing its services sector, as well as its biotechnology, chemical and petrochemical industries.

Singapore's small population and dependence on external markets and suppliers has pushed it towards economic openness, free trade and free markets. This, as well as government policies that foster economic development, have been key factors in Singapore's historically strong economic performance. The Government has pursued an outward-looking, export-oriented economic policy that encourages two-way flows of trade and investment. Singapore's trade policy approach has been to work with like-minded countries such as Australia to advance the cause of free trade within international fora, particularly through the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as through regional fora such as ASEAN and APEC. Another integral part of Singapore's trade policy is its bilateral approach to developing FTAs with a range of states, including the FTA signed with Australia in 2003.

Recent economic performance

Singapore's highly globalised economy grew by 14.5 per cent in 2010, the biggest annual increase in output since independence in 1965, following contraction of 0.8 per cent in 2009.  In August 2011 the Singapore Government downgraded its growth forecasts for 2011 to 5 per cent, down from the range of 5-7 per cent earlier in 2011, reflecting concerns about ongoing risks in the world economy and a sharp downturn in growth during the second quarter of 2011 (a contraction of 6.5 per cent of GDP from the first quarter of 2011).  Singapore recorded positive third quarter growth but the Government forecasts that growth in 2012 could be below the potential long-term rate of between 3-5 per cent.

Singapore's trade relationships

Singapore has a Free Trade Agreement with Australia – the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) (http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/negotiations/safta/index.html) signed on 17 February 2003.  Singapore is also a party to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), which entered into force on 1 January 2010.

In addition, Singapore has concluded FTAs with a large number of countries, including New Zealand (2000); the European Free Trade Association, a group of countries covering Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (2002); Japan (2002); the United States (2003); the Republic of Korea, Jordan and Panama (2005); China (2008); Peru (2008). Free Trade Agreements were also concluded with Costa Rica (2008) and the Gulf Cooperative Council countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (2010), although these are yet to enter into force. Singapore also finalised a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement with India (2005). Regionally, Singapore has concluded the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement ('Trans-Pacific SEP') with Brunei, Chile and New Zealand (2005), which has the potential to expand to include Australia, the United States, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru through the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiations currently underway.

Singapore is a strong supporter of the WTO. It hosted the WTO's first Ministerial Meeting in December 1996 and the WTO Mini-Ministerial in October 2001, with the latter serving as an important event in the lead-up to the WTO meeting in Doha. It continues to work closely with other WTO member states for a successful conclusion to the Doha Round negotiations. Singapore is an active participant in the World Economic Forum (WEF), hosting WEF meetings in 1999 and 2003. In 2006, Singapore hosted the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Annual meetings.

Singapore also strongly supports trade liberalisation through its membership of APEC, where it has joined with Australia and other like-minded countries in pushing for identification of sectors for early liberalisation. The APEC Secretariat is located in Singapore. Singapore hosted APEC in 2009.

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The bilateral relationship with Singapore is one of Australia's closest and most comprehensive in Southeast Asia. This is based on long-standing Commonwealth, defence, education, political, trade and tourism links, as well as on the two countries' similar strategic outlook.  Singapore and Australia cooperate on many issues integral to trade and security. 

Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee

The Australian and Singaporean Governments have worked closely together to enhance the strong relationship between the two countries. The respective Prime Ministers made a Joint Declaration, 'A New Partnership', in January 1996 encompassing cooperation in cultural, economic, political and security matters. It also established a biennial Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC), which is led by foreign ministers and attended by ministers responsible for other areas of bilateral cooperation (usually defence and trade). The inaugural SAJMC was held in Canberra in October 1996. Subsequent SAJMC meetings have been held in Singapore (1999, 2003 and 2009) and Australia (2001 and 2005). The next meeting is due to take place in Australia in 2012.

Defence and security links

Australia and Singapore have developed a strong bilateral defence relationship covering a comprehensive range of activities including high level policy dialogue, significant combined exercises, personnel exchanges and training. A major feature of the relationship is the access to Australian training areas that Australia grants to the Singapore Armed Forces, including the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland.

In August 2008, former Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Lee signed the 'Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Singapore Concerning Defence Cooperation'. This MOU articulates the principles of the Australia-Singapore defence partnership and the key areas of defence cooperation. It also provides a framework to manage existing areas of defence cooperation and to promote new areas of cooperation.

Australia and Singapore are both members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), which is a joint defence arrangement between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom. The FPDA is a valuable component of the regional security architecture and the only one with an operational dimension. This arrangement has existed for 40 years and, although it originally focused on the defence of Malaysia and Singapore against conventional threats, it now also encompasses non-conventional security issues such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and counter terrorism. The Minister for Defence, the Hon Stephen Smith MP, visited Singapore from 1-2 November to attend the 40th Anniversary of the FPDA Defence Ministers Meeting.

Australia is also an active participant in the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Conference (Shangri-La Dialogue), held annually in Singapore. Defence Minister Smith led the Australian delegation to the 10th Shangri-La Dialogue, held from 4-5 June 2011.  Mr Smith and Singapore's then Defence Minister, Teo Chee Hean, attended the inaugural ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Hanoi on 12 October 2010.

Singapore is an influential and active member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). It also supports the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and hosted major PSI exercises, Deep Sabre and Deep Sabre II, in August 2005 and October 2009 respectively.

Singapore and Australia have similar views on regional security issues. Singapore is a strong ally in global efforts to combat terrorism. In recent years, bilateral collaboration on counter-terrorism has strengthened, including in the areas of law enforcement, intelligence sharing and through the FPDA. In 2005, the Australian Federal Police and Singapore Police Force signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) providing the framework for ongoing police collaboration to combat transnational crime. This was the first Police-to-Police MOU that Singapore signed with another country.

Other areas of cooperation

Singapore and Australia are engaged in significant cooperation and dialogue on major regional and global economic, political and security issues, including through the East Asia Summit (EAS), APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Australia also has links with Singapore in disarmament and arms control. Australia and Singapore signed an Agreement for the avoidance of double taxation in 1969. In September 2009 the two countries signed an Exchange of Information Protocol in relation to taxation.

Bilateral visits

Recent high level Australian visits to Singapore have included the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, in October 2011, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, in February 2011, the Minister for Trade, the Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP, and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, in November 2010. Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited in November 2009 to attend APEC (Treasurer Wayne Swan, then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and then Trade Minister Simon Crean also visited Singapore to attend APEC Ministerial Meetings held in November 2009). Mr Rudd also visited Singapore on 29 May 2009 to give the keynote address at the 8th Shangri-La Dialogue. The Australian Governor-General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce AC, visited Singapore in November 2008 and December 2010.

Recent high-level Singaporean visits to Australia have included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's and Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam's visit to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in October 2011, Deputy Prime Minister and then Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean's visit from 19-23November 2010 and former Foreign Minister George Yeo's visit as a Guest of the Australian Government from 16-20 June 2010. Senior Minister of State for National Development and Education, Grace Fu, visited in August 2010 under the Special Visitors Program. Then Deputy Prime Minister and former Senior Minister, Professor Jayakumar, visited Australia from 16–18 March 2009. 

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), which came into force on 28 July 2003, has contributed to a strong bilateral economic partnership. Singapore is Australia's largest trade and investment partner in ASEAN and our sixth largest trading partner overall. Australia ranked 8th among Singapore's principal merchandise export destinations and 17th among its principal merchandise import sources in 2009. In 2010 Australian merchandise exports to Singapore were $ 4.8 billion (our 9th largest export market) and our imports from Singapore reached $10.7 billion (our 5th largest source). Services are a key part of our bilateral trade, with exports to Singapore valued at $2.6 billion (our 6th largest export market) and imports at $3.5 billion (our 3rd largest source) in 2010.

Major services exports include transport, business and professional services. In 2010, Singapore was Australia's 12th largest source country for foreign students enrolments, with 8,134 Singaporean students enrolled in Australian educational institutions. Singapore is also one of Australia's major sources of short term visitors with 308,000 Singaporeans visiting Australia in 2010, our sixth largest tourism market.

Singapore's investment in Australia is substantial. At $43.8 billion, Singapore ranked fifth overall in 2010. Singaporean investment has traditionally been concentrated in real estate, but has become more diversified in recent years. Key investments include: the SingTel acquisition of Optus in 2001; Singapore Investment Corporation's acquisition of the Mayne Group's portfolio of private hospitals in 2003; and Singapore Power's purchase of the US TXU Corporation's assets in Victoria and South Australia in 2004. The Singapore Investment Corporation has stakes in Myer Melbourne and Westfield Parramatta.

Australia's investment in Singapore was $25.1 billion in 2010.  According to Singapore's Economic Development Board, there are over 1300 Australian companies operating in Singapore. Significant investments include ANZ's acquisition of the Singapore retail banking operations of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Toll Holdings' acquisition of SembCorp Logistics ($1.1 billion) and QANTAS's joint venture project to establish Singapore-based budget airline Jetstar Asia, which commenced operations in December 2004. In early 2008, the Melbourne arm of multinational Thales Air Systems secured a $250 million contract from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore for the design, manufacture, installation, maintenance and commissioning of the Long Range Radar and Display System III at Changi International Airport.

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement

Following ten full rounds of negotiations between April 2001 and October 2002, the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) (http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/negotiations/safta/index.html) was signed on 17 February 2003. It entered into force on 28 July 2003. SAFTA was the first FTA Australia had concluded in the twenty years since the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER) came into effect on 1 January 1983.

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement: A Business Guide (http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/negotiations/safta/safta_guide.html) explains in plain language how SAFTA has made it easier for Australian exporters, investors and professionals to access and do business in the Singapore market.

SAFTA is fully consistent with the two countries' shared interests in a strong and effective WTO. Both Australia and Singapore have made commitments in SAFTA that go beyond our existing liberalisation obligations in the WTO.

SAFTA is a wide-ranging and comprehensive agreement, covering tariff-free access for goods, improved market access for services (including specific commitments on sectoral markets for telecommunications, financial services and professional services) and cooperation and trade facilitation in key areas, such as competition policy, customs procedures, e-commerce, education, intellectual property protection and standards. SAFTA presents trade and investment opportunities for businesses in Australia and Singapore. It also provides investors with greater certainty through provisions on the promotion and protection of investment.

Under SAFTA, import tariffs on all goods originating in Australia and Singapore were eliminated and Australian service suppliers enjoy improved conditions of access to the Singapore services market, particularly in  education, financial and legal services. SAFTA also offers a more open and predictable business environment across a range of areas, including business travel, competition policy, customs procedures, e-commerce, government procurement, intellectual property, technical standards and telecommunications regulation. Under SAFTA, Australian investors and investments are treated on the same basis as Singapore businesses (national treatment), including in relation to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, liquidation, sale, transfer and expropriation of investments. Details of SAFTA benefits are provided in the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement: A Business Guide (http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/negotiations/safta/safta_guide.html) .

To ensure its continued relevance for business, SAFTA contains specific review provisions. The first review in 2004 produced a balanced package of outcomes for both countries. For example, Singapore agreed to recognise law degrees from two additional Australian universities and Australia agreed to add four new entities to the list of government agencies subject to the national treatment provision on procurement, as well as to revise arrangements in relation to Certificates of Origin for Singapore exports. Ministers announced the substantive conclusion of the second review at the Singapore Australia Joint Ministerial Committee on 27 July 2009 and changes from the second review entered into force on 1 September 2011. The SAFTA (http://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/safta/index.html#news) second review outcomes (http://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/safta/index.html#news) include updates to the chapters on investment and intellectual property.

The ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement

The ASEAN-Australian-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA (http://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/fta/asean/aanzfta/index.html)) came into force on 1 January 2010 reducing or eliminating tariffs across a region that is home to 600 million people and has an annual GDP of $3.2 trillion.

Trade and investment conditions

Singapore maintains some import restrictions relating to environmental, health and public security considerations. Rice is subject to import licensing for food security and price stability reasons. Imports of cars that are three or more years old are prohibited for environmental and road safety reasons.

Foreign investment has traditionally been welcomed in Singapore and has accounted for a significant share of total investment in the economy. Through foreign investment, Singapore has evolved into a base for multinational companies to engage in high-end manufacturing and product development, deliver services and coordinate regional procurement, production, marketing and distribution operations. Reflecting the important contribution of foreign investment to the Singaporean economy, there are few restrictions on inward foreign investment. The restrictions that exist are mostly in broadcasting, the domestic news media, legal and other professional services, multi-level marketing, property ownership and retail banking.

The Singapore Government is working towards transforming Singapore from an investment-driven economy to an innovation-driven economy. As a result, it has introduced a number of promotion programs aimed at attracting investment by multinational companies and Small and Medium Enterprises. These include exemption of corporate tax on profits from pioneer activity for up to 10 years, double deduction for qualifying research and development expenses against income and operational headquarters' income from the provision of approved services in Singapore taxed at 10 per cent. Innovation development projects may obtain grants of 30–50 per cent of approved direct development costs. Two areas specifically identified for further development are environmental and water technologies, and interactive and digital media.

Australian Trade Commission (Austrade)

Austrade has identified potential opportunities for Australian suppliers of goods and services in a number of sectors. Austrade's Singapore country page (http://www.austrade.gov.au/Singapore-profile/default.aspx) supplies general information on doing business and on specific export opportunities. The Austrade website (http://www.austrade.gov.au/) has a database that can be searched by industry.

Austrade Singapore can also provide advice on accessing opportunities in Singapore. They can be contacted at singapore@austrade.gov.au (mailto:singapore@austrade.gov.au).

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Australian Government

-- Singapore Country Fact Sheet, DFAT (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/sing.pdf)
-- The Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement: A Business Guide (http://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/safta/safta_guide.html)

-- Austrade, Singapore (http://www.austrade.com.sg/index.html)

Singapore Government

-- SINGOV, Government Information Portal (http://www.gov.sg/)
-- Statistics Singapore (http://www.singstat.gov.sg/index.html)
-- Uniquely Singapore (http://www.visitsingapore.com/)

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Last Updated: December 2011

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