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 in September 2015 with PAP receiving 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.

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 and in September 2015. 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 Nations (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 responsive 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, was celebrated in 2015. To mark this occasion, on 29 June 2015, our two countries signed a Joint Declaration on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).  We agreed that the CSP will open a new, dynamic chapter in our partnership by deepening existing areas of cooperation and catalysing new ones. This built upon the 1996 Joint Declaration “A New Partnership” which encompassed cooperation in cultural, economic, political and security matters.

The two governments have embarked on a ten year plan to enhance our strategic, trade, economic and people to people links, to drive further integration of our economies.  The two countries will, in particular, enhance our collaboration in innovation, science, research and technology, capitalising on our respective and complementary strengths. 

In May 2016, Australia and Singapore announced an inaugural package of initiatives to strengthen economic, defence, security, foreign affairs, innovation and people-to-people ties under the CSP.

Joint Announcement: Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Prime Minister Lee’s visit to Canberra in October 2016 represents a significant milestone for the CSP. This visit sees our two nation’s commitments come to fruition with the signing of the Agreement to Amend the Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement, and MOUs on defence, innovation and policing.

Fact sheet: Comprehensive Strategic Partnership [DOCX 263 KB]

These wide-ranging initiatives will continue to elevate Australia’s partnership with Singapore, building on existing areas of cooperation while also driving new ones and is focused on four pillars: economics, trade and investment; defence and security; innovation and science; and people to people links.

Economics, Trade and Investment

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) is a central pillar of Australia’s economic relationship with Singapore. SAFTA, which entered into force in 2003, was the first FTA Australia concluded since Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement 1983 (ANZCERTA).

On 13 October 2016, in Canberra, the Hon Steven Ciobo MP, Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment and his Singaporean counterpart Mr Lim Hng Kiang Minister for Trade and Investment signed the Agreement to Amend SAFTA (not yet in force) [PDF 2.30 MB]. This Agreement reflects the outcomes of the third review of SAFTA, which was substantially concluded on 6 May 2016, as part of a package of initiatives to advance the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) between the two countries.

The third review of SAFTA addresses longstanding ‘behind the border’ issues of commercial interest to Australian services providers, in areas such as education, labour mobility and professional services. In a number of these areas, Singapore has offered Australia better commitments than it has previously offered to any other trading partner.

SAFTA, as amended, will enter into force once both countries have completed their domestic treaty processes.

Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement

Further information on the outcomes of the Third Review:

To further strengthen our economic cooperation, Australia and Singapore have also agreed to cooperate on the development of Northern Australia, to facilitate travel between our two countries and cooperate on tourism.

Fact sheets

Defence and security

Australia and Singapore have developed a strong bilateral defence relationship covering a comprehensive range of activities including high level policy dialogue, significant joint 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 2016, Australia and Singapore agreed to enhance and expand training opportunities for Singapore Armed Forces personnel in Australia; this will involve Singapore making a substantial investment in training areas and facilities in Australia. This was formalised on 13 October 2016 when Australia and Singapore’s Defence Ministers signed an MOU on Military Training and Training Area Development.

On 10 October 2016 Australia and Singapore signed an MOU on Personnel Exchanges.

Australia and Singapore have concluded a Memorandum of Understanding on military intelligence cooperation. The MOU provides a framework for exchanging intelligence assessments, among a range of cooperative intelligence activities, on issues of common security interest.

In August 2015 Australia and Singapore renewed an MOU for Cooperation in Defence Science and Technology, expanding 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. 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. The MOU was renewed for a further three years in October 2015. On 13 October 2016 the Australian Federal Police and Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau signed an MOU on Combatting Transnational Drug Crime.

Innovation and Science

Both Singapore and Australia recognise the importance of innovation to create modern and dynamic economies.  Singapore is a world leader in building a supportive, flexible environment for emerging businesses and Australia has a world class research system and outward-looking creative, businesses that are ready to collaborate internationally. 

The Memorandum of Understanding signed on 13 October 2016 commits our two governments to enhance collaboration, exchanges and agency-to-agency innovation and science engagement between Australia and Singapore. 

Singapore and Australia will hold Joint Strategic Dialogues to build cooperation in priority areas of innovation and science. The first of these was held on 26 August in Canberra. At the meeting it was agreed that future cooperation would focus on data collaboration, marine science and research infrastructure.

People to people links

People to people links between Australia and Singapore are strong encompassing education, tourism and, arts and culture.

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

The New Colombo Plan is building on Australia’s education, business and people-to-people ties with Singapore, by supporting young Australian undergraduate students to undertake study and internships in the region. Singapore has been a strong supporter of the initiative and a popular destination for students. In the first four years of the New Colombo Plan, more than 1000 Australian undergraduates have been supported to undertake study and internships in Singapore.

Singapore and Australia have agreed to establish a pilot internship program which will aim to give up to 100 Singaporeans studying in Australia new internship opportunities with leading Australian companies.

Fact sheet: Education

Singapore and Australia have created the Australia-Singapore Arts Group (the Group), to provide strategic and expert advice to support and strengthen arts and cultural engagement in a range of areas over the next five years.

The Group will be co-chaired by Dr Mat Trinca, Director, National Museum of Australia, and Mrs Rosa Daniel, Deputy Secretary (Culture) Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Chief Executive Officer, National Heritage Board, Singapore.

Current cooperation in the arts and culture sector ranges from engagement in contemporary music to cooperation between the National Library Board of Singapore and the National Library of Australia, gallery loans and exhibitions, and orchestral performances.

Australia and Singapore have agreed to work with New Zealand to promote the library and information sector (LIS) across the three countries. On 12 October 2016, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the Library Association of Singapore (LAS) and the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) signed a memorandum of understanding to promote an innovation agenda by making information in all its forms accessible to some 20 million library users.

Fact sheet: Cultural relations

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. The ninth SAJMC was held in Sydney, Australia on 18 March 2016 and included Foreign, Defence and Trade Ministers from Australia and Singapore.

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$52,755.1 in 2016.

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 2015 was 2.2 per cent and Singapore's government forecasts growth of between 1 and 2 per cent for 2016 largely on the back of slowing regional trade, lower commodity prices and decreased financial activity. Unemployment in Singapore remains low at 2 per cent.

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 for which are now concluded. 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. 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 2015, Australian merchandise exports to Singapore were A$6.9 billion (our seventh largest export market) and our imports from Singapore were A$9.4 billion (our eighth largest source). Services are a key part of our bilateral trade, with exports to Singapore valued at A$4.1 billion and imports at A$5.3 billion in 2015.

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 2015, Singapore was Australia’s 5th largest inbound market for visitor arrivals and expenditure. In 2015-16, Australia received 428,200 visitors from Singapore. Singaporean visitors to Australia spent almost $1.4 billion in 2015. Singapore's investment in Australia is substantial. At A$98.59 billion in 2015, up from A$80.2 in 2014, 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’s Government Investment Corporation’s acquisition of the Mayne Group's portfolio of private hospitals in 2003; and the SingTel acquisition of Optus in 2001. In December 2015 a Singapore / Chinese consortium – Jemena – was approved to build a gas pipeline in the Northern Territory.

Australia's investment in Singapore in 2015 was A$67.06 billion, up from A$50.7 billion in 2014. 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 construction firms including Lend Lease Asia Holding and Leighton Pty Ltd; and logistics groups such as Toll Holdings.

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 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


October 2016: The Attorney General, Senator the Hon George Brandis visited Singapore.

April 2016 (twice): The Special Envoy for Trade, the Hon Andrew Robb visited Singapore.

January 2016: former Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb visited Singapore.

September 2015: The Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove visited Singapore

August 2015: Former Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss visited Singapore for the 50th Anniversary of independence celebrations.

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

May 2015: Former 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: Former 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: Former Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon David Johnston participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

February 2014: Former 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.


October 2016: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Australia, accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Balakrishnan, the Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, and the Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Lim Hng Kiang

March 2016: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Balakrishnan, 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.

March 2016: The Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Vivien Balakrishnan visited Australia.

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: 19 October 2016