Singapore country brief


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 714 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 5.4 million (as at June 2013) of whom 3.8 million are citizens or permanent residents. 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.

Political overview

System of Government

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 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 judgment, 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 respectively), three Ministers in the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministers for: Culture, Community and Youth; Education; the Environment and Water Resources; Defence; Foreign Affairs and Law; Health; Communications and Information; National Development; Trade and Industry; Social and Family Development; Manpower; 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. In 2014, Australia and ASEAN celebrate 40 years of relations.

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 (IORA), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and East Asia Summit (EAS) among other bodies.

Bilateral relations

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. In January 1996, the then Prime Ministers of both countries made a Joint Declaration "A New Partnership" encompassing cooperation in cultural, economic,political and security matters.

Leaders' Dialogue

In April 2012, former Prime Minister Gillard and Prime Minister Lee agreed that Australia and Singapore would formalise an annual meeting between leaders, to take place in either Singapore or Australia or to be held in the sidelines of international meetings.

Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee

In October 1996, the inaugural Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) was held in Canberra. SAJMC is led by foreign ministers and attended by ministers responsible for other areas of bilateral cooperation (usually defence and trade). Subsequent SAJMC meetings have been held in Singapore (1999, 2003 and 2009) and Australia (2001, 2005 and 2012). The eighth SAJMC was held in Singapore on 22 August 2014 and included Foreign, Defence and Trade Ministers from Australia and Singapore.

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. An Annual Defence Ministers' Dialogue was established in 2012 by former Defence Minister Stephen Smith and his Singaporean counterpart, Dr Ng Eng Hen to formalise the regular contact that exists between Australian and Singaporean Defence Ministers.

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 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 Johnston led the Australian delegation to the 13th Shangri-La Dialogue, held 30 May – 1 June 2014. Singapore is an influential and active member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

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.

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 and was renewed during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to Australia in October 2012.

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).

Under Australia's G20 presidency in 2014, Australia has invited Singapore to participate as a guest in this year's meetings. This demonstrates Australia's high regard of Singapore as an influential economic partner in the region.

Singapore and Australia signed a Sports Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), in June 2013, to strengthen, promote and develop cooperation in the field of sport on the basis of reciprocity and mutual benefit. 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.

Singapore has agreed to participate in the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan, a signature initiative of the Australian Government which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia and strengthen people-to-people and institutional relationships, through study and internships undertaken by Australian undergraduate students in the region. In the 2014 pilot phase, around 40 undergraduate scholarships and more than 700 student mobility grants will be funded across the four pilot locations of Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore.

2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence and the 50th anniversary of Australia-Singapore diplomatic relations.

Economic overview

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 GDP growth for 2013 was 3.7 per cent, aided by recoveries in the US and Europe. Singapore’s GDP in 2012 grew by 1.3 per cent following 5.2 per cent in 2011. This followed growth of 14.8 per cent in 2010.

Singapore's trade relationships

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) was signed on 17 February 2003 and came into force on 28 July 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 bilateral 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, India, 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, the United Arab Emirates (2010) and the European Union (2013), although some 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, Peru, Canada and Mexico through the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiations currently underway. Singapore is also a member of the ASEAN Free Trade Area and ASEAN Free Trade Agreements with China, India, Japan and Korea, as well as Australia and New Zealand. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations (involving ASEAN, China, Korea, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand), launched in November 2012, are also a high priority for Singapore.

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 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.

Trade and investment

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) has contributed to a strong bilateral economic partnership. Singapore is Australia's largest trade and investment partner in ASEAN and our fifth largest trading partner overall. Australia ranked seventh among Singapore's principal merchandise export destinations and 18th among its principal merchandise import sources in 2012. In 2012-13 Australian merchandise exports to Singapore were $ 57.0 billion (our 8th largest export market) and our imports from Singapore were $13.0 billion (our fourth largest source). Services are a key part of our bilateral trade, with exports to Singapore valued at $3.6 billion and imports at $4.6 billion in 2012-13.

Major services exports include technical, business and professional services and transport. In 2011, Singapore was Australia's 14th largest source country for foreign student enrolments, with 9,392 Singaporean students enrolled in Australian educational institutions. Singapore is also one of Australia's major sources of short term visitors with 343,600 Singaporean tourists visiting Australia in 2012, up 7.9 per cent compared to 2011. In 2011, almost one million Australians visited Singapore.

Singapore's investment in Australia is substantial. At $55.9 billion in 2012, Singaporean investment grew by around 15 per cent over the previous twelve months. Singapore was ranked fourth overall as a source of foreign investment in Australia. Singaporean investment has traditionally been concentrated in real estate, but has become more diversified in recent years. Key investments include: Singapore Power's purchase of the US TXU Corporation's assets in Victoria and South Australia in 2004; Singapore Investment Corporation's acquisition of the Mayne Group's portfolio of private hospitals in 2003; and the SingTel acquisition of Optus in 2001. The Singapore Investment Corporation has stakes in Myer Melbourne and Westfield Parramatta.

Australia's investment in Singapore was $26.7 billion in 2012. A large number of Australian businesses have a presence in Singapore including Australia's major banks; mining companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto; engineering design and constructive firms including Lend Lease Asia Holding and Leighton Pty Ltd; and logistics groups such as Toll Holdings.

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (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.

SAFTA is a wide-ranging and comprehensive agreement, under which import tariffs on all goods originating in Australia and Singapore were eliminated and Australian service suppliers have since enjoyed improved conditions of access to the Singapore services market, particularly in education, financial and legal services. 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.

To ensure its continued relevance for business, SAFTA contains specific review provisions. Changes from the second review entered into force on 2 September 2011and 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) came into force on 1 January 2010 reducing or eliminating tariffs across a region that is home to 600 million people and a combined GDP of around US$2.2 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. 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. It has introduced 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 between 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.

Information on doing business and opportunities in Singapore

Bilateral visits

August 2014:  Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop, Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb, and Assistant Minister for Defence, the Hon Stuart Robert, participated in the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) meeting in Singapore.

May 2014:  Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon David Johnston led Australia’s delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

February 2014: Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb, visited Singapore.

October 2013: Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop, visited Singapore as part of her first official overseas visit program.

July 2013: Then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Bob Carr, visited Singapore. He also visited in January and April 2013 and March 2012.

June 2013: Then Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, visited Singapore.

April 2012: Then Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard, visited Singapore.

November 2010: Then Minister for Trade, the Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP, visited Singapore.

December 2010: Then Governor-General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce, visited Singapore.

June 2014:  President of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, made a guest of government visit to Australia.

November 2013: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law, K.Shanmugam, attended the IORA meeting in Perth.

October 2013:  Deputy Prime Minister Teo and the Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Grace Fu, visited Sydney where they met with Australian officials and inspected a Singaporean naval vessel which was in port.

2012: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Shanmugam, Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, and Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, visited for the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting. Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen visited Canberra and Perth.

October 2012: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Australia.

October 2011: Prime Minister Lee's and Minister for Foreign Affairs.Mr Shanmugam's visit to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth.

Last Updated: 20 February 2014