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 5.47 million in 2014 of whom 3.87 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 (9.1 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

The Republic of Singapore was established on 9 August 1965. Prior to independence, Singapore was a British colony from 1824. In 1963, Singapore gained independence from Britain when it joined the Federation of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form the Federation of Malaysia. However, political, economic and ideological differences led to Singapore’s separation from the rest of Malaysia, becoming a sovereign, democratic and independent nation on 9 August 1965.

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.

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.

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 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 celebrated 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.

The 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence and the 50th anniversary of Australia-Singapore diplomatic relations are being celebrated in 2015.

On 29 June 2015, our Prime Ministers signed a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ to elevate the bilateral relationship, underpinned by a roadmap of practical cooperation (‘Project 2025’) across economic, foreign affairs, defence and security and people-to-people spheres. This builds upon the 1996 Joint Declaration “A New Partnership”which encompassed cooperation in cultural, economic, political and security matters.

Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee

The inaugural Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) was held in Canberra in October 1996. The 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, 2009 and 2014) 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.

Joint Communiqué of the Eighth Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC)

People to people links

Australia has a strong education and training relationship with Singapore and is a popular destination for Singaporean students studying overseas. Over 100,000 Singaporeans have studied in Australian institutions.

Singapore participated in the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan (NCP) in 2014, and is continuing to host this successful program in 2015. The NCP is a signature foreign policy 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.

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

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.

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

Australia is also an active participant in the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Conference (Shangri-La Dialogue), held annually in Singapore. 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.

Singapore and Australia have similar views on regional security issues. Singapore is a strong ally in global efforts to combat terrorism. 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.

Economic overview

The Singapore Government has pursued an outward-looking, export-oriented economic policy that encourages two-way flows of trade and investment. This has enabled Singapore to become a global trading hub with a trading capacity almost three times its GDP. Singapore also has one of the highest per capita gross domestic products (GDP) in the world, which was valued at US$55,182 in 2013.

Singapore’s 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. This realignment has seen Singapore become an important financial, trade and wealth management hub for the South-East Asian region and a global hub for currency and commodity trading, transhipment and oil and gas refining.

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.

Under Australia's G20 presidency in 2014, Singapore participated as a guest in the year's meetings, demonstrating Australia's high regard of Singapore as an influential economic partner in the region.

Recent economic performance

Singapore's GDP growth for 2014 was 2.9 per cent. In 2013 Singapore’s GDP aided by recoveries in the US and Europe. The Singapore Government expects GDP growth of between 2 and 4 per cent in 2015. Unemployment in Singapore remains low at 2.1%. Singapore’s trade surplus increased to SGD 6.69 billion in November 2014, up from SGD 3.58 billion a year earlier.

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 concluded the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement ('Trans-Pacific SEP') with Brunei, Chile and New Zealand (2005). This formed the basis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement 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 (RCEP) 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 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

Singapore is Australia's largest trade and investment partner in ASEAN and our fifth largest trading partner overall. In 2014, Australian merchandise exports to Singapore were A$ 8.4 billion (our 6th largest export market) and our imports from Singapore were A$12.7 billion (our fourth largest source). Services are a key part of our bilateral trade, with exports to Singapore valued at A$3.7 billion and imports at A$5.4 billion in 2014.

Major services exports include technical, business and professional services and transport. Singapore is also one of Australia's major sources of short-term visitors. In 2014, Singapore was Australia’s 5th largest inbound market for visitor arrivals, with 372,000 Singaporean visitors coming to Australia in 2014.

Singapore's investment in Australia is substantial. At A$80.2 billion in 2014, up from A$60.5 in 2013, Singapore was ranked fifth 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.

Australia's investment in Singapore in 2014 was A$50.7 billion, up from A$35.4 billion in 20134. 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) has contributed to a strong bilateral economic partnership. It 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.

On 29 June 2015, Prime Ministers of Australia and Singapore agreed to review the SAFTA, commencing in July 2015.

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.

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

High level visits


June 2015:  Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited Singapore to formalise the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

May 2015: Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb, visited Singapore.

May 2015: Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop, visited Singapore to launch ’50 Bridges’ celebrating 50 years of Australia-Singapore bilateral relations.

April and May 2015: Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Investment, the Hon Steven Ciobo, visited Singapore.

March 2015: Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited Singapore to pay his respects at the funeral of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

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 participated in 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.

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

June 2013: Former Minister for Defence, the Hon Stephen Smith, visited Singapore.

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

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

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


June 2014: President of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, visited Australia.

November 2013: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law, K.Shanmugam, attended the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) meeting in Perth.

October 2013: Deputy Prime Minister Teo and the Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Grace Fu, visited Sydney.

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.

October 2012: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Australia.

October 2011: Prime Minister Lee and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Shanmugam attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth.

Last Updated: 20 February 2014