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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/overseas-business-risk-singapore/overseas-business-risk-singapore
We aim to provide information on this page on the key security and political risks which UK businesses may face when operating in Singapore.
UKTI’s Exporting to Singapore Guide provides useful information on developing your overseas trade in Singapore.
1. Political and Economic
1.1 Political Overview
Singapore is a highly prosperous island state that serves as a business hub for South East Asia and as one of the world’s most important ports.
It has an ethnically mixed population (citizens and permanent residents are around 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian). The total population is 5.4 million, of which 3.3 million (61%) are citizens with the rest foreign workers and residents.
Singapore is a Republic within the Commonwealth, gaining independence from the UK as part of Malaysia in 1963, before separating from Malaysia in 1965. English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil are Singapore’s official languages, although English is the language of both government and business.
Singapore has been one of the region’s most politically stable countries. Singapore practices a modified version of the Westminster Parliamentary system. Each parliament sits for a maximum of five years. The last General Election was held on 11 September 2015. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has been dominant since 1959, before Singapore became independent and the PAP currently holds 83 of the 87 elected seats in Singapore’s single chamber Parliament. The Workers’ Party is the largest opposition party in parliament. Read more on this.
The elections for Singapore’s President are held every 6 years with the last one held in August 2011. The President has a small and limited number of powers. Find out more details on the Singapore President.
There are no direct elections for local government. A system of regional Mayors and town councils exists.
1.2 Economic Overview
Singapore is a small and open economy, and the 36th largest globally (above Hong Kong). Its GDP per capita of over US$55,000 is higher than many OECD countries, including the UK. The city-state has one of the highest population densities in the world with 5.4 million people in an area not much larger than the Isle of Man.
The performance of the Singapore economy is often seen as a barometer for world trade. Its open and trade-oriented economy makes it particularly vulnerable to external shocks. The sluggish global economy (particularly the EU, Japan and China) contributed to Singapore’s slower GDP growth of 2% last year, down from 2.9% in 2014.
The IMF predicts growth of 2.9% in 2016, in line with official forecasts. Current (government driven) constraints on labour and credit will dampen growth and export levels, although an expansionary Budget and looser monetary policy should provide a positive boost. The official medium term forecast is for GDP growth to average 1-3% up to 2020.
Economic activity is spread across diverse sectors. Manufacturing maintains a significant one-fifth share of the economy, dominated by electronics, biomedical manufacturing, engineering and chemicals. It is the world’s 3rd largest oil refining centre. Singapore serves as a major regional hub for shipping, air transport, logistics and financial services.
The services sector contributes over two-thirds of GDP, with strong growth in financial and business services. It is ranked as the 4th global financial centre after London, New York and Hong Kong, and is a fast-growing insurance and wealth management hub.
Singapore has topped the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings since its inception, with particular strengths in trading across borders and investor protection. Consequently it is usually the first point of call for UK companies looking to enter the region.
Unemployment is very low, at around 2%. But going forward, Singapore’s key long-term economic challenges are to reduce its heavy reliance on foreign labour, while raising productivity through innovation and technology. This will be captured in Singapore’s next 10-year economic plan, to be released by the Committee for the Future Economy in 2016.
Note: Please access up to date statistics and information at the following websites –
- Singapore Statistics
- Ministry of Trade and Industry
- Monetary Authority of Singapore
- World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2015 - 2016
2. Human Rights
A police permit is required for any outdoor public assembly or procession and permission is needed for the wearing or displaying of any ‘cause related’ material or the public display of the flags of foreign nations. Approval from the Ministry of Manpower is required for a foreign national to give a talk on ‘racial, communal, religious, caused-related or political topics’. Foreign nationals may not join protests at Singapore’s Speaker’s Corner.
Some crimes in Singapore, including some non-violent crimes such as graffiti and immigration offences, carry, for men, punishments that may include canning (being beaten with a large stick). The death penalty exists for murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and firearms offences.
Male homosexual acts are illegal in Singapore, but in a statement to Parliament in 2007 Singapore’s Prime Minister stated that ‘The Government does not act as moral policemen’ and that ‘we do not proactively enforce’ the law on this issue. Openly gay and lesbian support groups and social venues exist. Obtaining dependants visas for same-sex couples may be very difficult.
It remains optional for employers to grant foreign domestic workers a day off and foreign domestic workers may agree to forgo days off and endure poor working conditions in order to pay off debts to placement agencies. UK companies and employers should follow local laws when employing migrant workers and also consider their own ethical or internal company obligations in maintaining good employment practices. The British Chamber of Commerce Singapore hosts a guide for expats on employing foreign domestic workers.
3. International Relations
Singapore is an active player on the international stage. Singapore is a founder member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the regional grouping comprising Singapore and nine of its immediate neighbours, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Singapore participates in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. Singapore is a leading member of the Global Governance Group, which is made up of nations outside of the G20, and has attended the G20 as a representative of this group as well as an invited observer. It is also a leading member of the Forum of Small States (FOSS).
Singapore enjoys good relations with its neighbours and is an advocate for ASEAN unity and greater ASEAN economic integration, particularly through the ASEAN Economic Community, which was launched at the end of 2015 to enhance economic and trade integration across SE Asia.
4. Bribery and Corruption
Bribery is illegal. It is an offence for UK nationals and bodies incorporated under UK law, to bribe anywhere in the world.
In Singapore there is zero tolerance for bribery. Any attempt to bribe or otherwise prevent an official from carrying out their duties can result in arrest.
In Singapore the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) is the government agency which investigates and prosecutes corruption in the public and private sectors. It was established in 1952 by the then British authorities. The CPIB’s primary function is to investigate corruption. It is also empowered to investigate other criminal cases in which corruption may be involved.
Incorporated within the Prime Minister’s Office, the Bureau is headed by a director who reports directly to the Prime Minister. The CPIB is independent of the Singapore Police Force and other government agencies so as to prevent any undue interference in its investigations. The CPIB is empowered to detain suspects of corrupt practices without trial.
Singapore was ranked 7th (of 175) in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 2014.
Read the information provided on our Bribery and corruption page.
5. Terrorism Threat and Protective Security
Read the latest Travel Advice for Singapore from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
6. Intellectual Property
When exporting to Singapore, it is essential to register your rights in Singapore as soon as possible in order to be able to defend and enforce them. IP rights are territorial in nature which means that registrations in the UK or another country’s jurisdiction are not automatically enforceable in others.
Singapore’s IP rights legislative and administrative regime is fully compliant with Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Singapore has a very comprehensive and robust IP legal framework. IP is protected by patents, trademarks, registered designs, copyright, and layout-designs of integrated circuits, geographical indications, trade secrets and confidential information, as well as plant variety. The framework is considered to be one of the best in Asia.
Singapore is a member of the following international conventions regulating IP matters: Paris Convention; Madrid Agreement; Patent Cooperation Treaty; World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) Copyright Treaty; NOCE Agreement and the Berne Convention.
Singapore announced it would join the Global Patent Prosecution Highway (GPPH) initiative in 2015, partly as a result of UK encouragement. Patent applications filed from Singapore can now obtain approval faster and more efficiently.
Singapore’s IP regime has been consistently recognised as one of the best in the world by international surveys. Singapore is ranked 2nd in the world and top in Asia for having the best protection of IP in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. The Property Rights Alliance’s International Property Rights Index and Taylor Wessing’s Global IP Index have similarly ranked Singapore top in Asia for their IP protection efforts.
According to the Global Innovation Index 2015, Singapore is also Asia’s most innovative country. Singapore is undertaking a comprehensive master plan to become the IP Hub of Asia. Initiatives and programmes related to the development of Singapore’s IP infrastructure and ecosystem are varied and expansive.
6.1 IP Top Tips for businesses:
Singapore operates under a “first-to-file” system, meaning that the first person to file an IP right in the Singapore jurisdiction will own that right once the application is granted.
Both the company and the employee will be held responsible for copyright infringements, and penalties can be severe including a fine and/or term of imprisonment.
ASEAN TMview is an online database with information on more than 2 million trademarks from 6 ASEAN countries. The free-of-charge online portal is aimed at making ASEAN trademark data widely available and easily accessible to all interested parties.
Singapore is part of the ASEAN Patent Examination Co-operation (ASPEC), a regional patent work-sharing programme among 9 participating ASEAN countries. The purpose of this programme is to share search and examination results between the participating offices to allow applicants in participating countries to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently.
There is no customs recording system in Singapore through which you can request Customs to proactively monitor and notify you of suspected counterfeit goods being imported.
Businesses are generally encouraged to learn more about IP issues relevant to their specific industry sector and to consider defensive measures early in their plans to enter the Singaporean market.
The UK Intellectual Property Office has an IP attaché based in Singapore with specific focus on providing support and advice to UK companies in Singapore and SE Asia.
6.2 Useful information can also be found at:
Intellectual Property Office, a UK Government agency providing free and impartial advice on protecting and registering your IP in the UK and abroad;
ASEAN IPR SME Helpdesk, a project funded by DG Enterprise and Industry of the European Commission to provide free information and training for European SMEs in the ASEAN region and;
Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (www.ipos.gov.sg).
7. Organised Crime
As with terrorism, the Singapore Government takes a serious view of organised crime and has in place several severe measures to counter it. These measures include the use of the death penalty against drug and firearms traffickers; jail and fines for those caught for human and goods trafficking; strict rules and expensive entry charges to discourage Singaporeans from patronising the casinos at its two integrated resorts; and close monitoring of designated red-light districts.
Visitors from the UK are advised not to become involved with drugs of any kind: possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment or the death penalty.
Read the information provided on our Organised crime page.
For advice on serious organised crime visit the National Crime Agency website.
Contact the UKTI team in Singapore for more information and advice on opportunities for doing business in Singapore.