Before independence in 1965, Singapore was the capital of the British Straits Settlements, a Crown Colony. It was also the main British naval base in East Asia. Because of its status as the main British naval base in the region, as well as hosting the largest dry dock in the world at that time in the form of the Singapore Naval Base, it was described in the press as the ‘Gibraltar of the East’. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 caused global trade to boom, and Singapore became a major world trade node, and the Port of Singapore became one of the largest and busiest ports in the world. Before independence in 1965, Singapore had a GDP per capita of $511, then the third-highest in East Asia. After independence, foreign direct investment and a state-led drive for industrialisation based on plans by Goh Keng Swee and Albert Winsemius created a modern economy.
Singapore is a world leader in several economic areas: The country is the world’s fourth leading financial centre, the world’s second-biggest casino gambling market, one of the world’s top three oil refining centres, the world’s largest oil-rig producer, and a major ship repairer. The port is one of the five busiest ports in the world. The World Bank has named Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business and ranks Singapore the world’s top logistics hub. It is also the world’s fourth largest foreign-exchange trading centre after London, New York and Tokyo.
The economy of Singapore is a highly developed free-market economy with dirigiste characteristics. Singapore’s economy has been previously ranked as the most open in the world, the joint 4th-least corrupt, and the most pro-business. Singapore has low tax-rates and the second-highest per-capita GDP in the world in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is headquartered in Singapore.
Alongside the business-friendly reputation for global and local privately held companies and public companies, various national state-owned enterprises play a substantial role in Singapore’s economy. The sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings holds majority stakes in several of the nation’s largest bellwether companies, such as Singapore Airlines, SingTel, ST Engineering and MediaCorp. With regards to foreign direct investment (FDI), the Singaporean economy is a major FDI outflow-financier in the world. In addition, throughout its history, Singapore has benefited from the large inward flows of FDI from global investors, financial institutions and multinational corporations (MNCs) due to its highly attractive investment climate along with a stable and conducive political environment throughout its modern years.
Singapore relies on an extended concept of intermediary trade to entrepôt trade, by purchasing raw goods and refining them for re-export in order to sustain its high levels of export-oriented industrialisation, such as in the wafer-fabrication industry and in oil refining. Singapore has a strategic port which makes it more competitive than many of its neighbours in carrying out such entrepôt activities. Singapore’s trade-to-GDP ratio is among the highest in the world, as of 2020 the ratio was 320%. The Port of Singapore is the second-busiest in the world by cargo tonnage and is the busiest transshipment port in the world.
Singapore is also a regional, continental and global hub for the management and operations of various MNCs, because of its strategic location in close proximity with other Asia-Pacific markets, along with its advanced connectivity and infrastructure (airline hub and maritime port with a diverse array of destinations, Gigabit fiber-optic communications, efficient road transport and public transport) and its immigration policies in welcoming global talent. In addition, Singapore is a popular international tourist destination for various types of tourism (Business tourism, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) tourism, Medical tourism, Urban tourism).
Singapore’s economy is often referred to as a “miracle” due to its rapid transformation from a developing country to a developed, high-income economy in a relatively short period of time. This transformation took place in the second half of the 20th century under the leadership of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his government. One of the key factors contributing to Singapore’s economic miracle was its strategic location, which made it an ideal hub for international trade and commerce.
The country’s main exports include electronics, chemicals and services. Singapore is the regional hub for wealth management. Water is scarce in Singapore and a sizeable percentage of water is imported from Malaysia, therefore it is defined as a precious resource.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the Singapore’s economic landscape. SMEs contribute 43% of Singapore’s GDP (S$428 bil) and employ 70% of Singapore’s total workforce of 3.35 million.
Singapore has limited arable land, meaning that Singapore is heavily reliant on agrotechnology parks (particularly vertical hydroponic farms) for agricultural production. As a result, Singapore imports 90% of its food supply and has a wide variety of supplier countries in order to achieve its food security; Singapore is ranked as among the most food secure in the world.
Apart from its strategic location at the cross-roads of trade between the East and the West, Singapore has little to no natural resources, hence human resources is a pivotal issue for the health of the Singaporean economy; the services and manufacturing sectors of the economy are heavily reliant on a highly-educated and highly-skilled ‘Professional, Managerial, Executive and Technical’ (PMET) workforce composed of residents and expatriates. The economy of Singapore ranked 2nd overall in the Scientific American Biotechnology ranking in 2014, with the featuring of Biopolis.
To preserve its international standing and to further its economic prosperity in the 21st century, Singapore has taken measures to promote innovation, to encourage entrepreneurship and to retrain its workforce. The Ministry of Manpower (MoM) has the prime responsibility for setting, adjusting, and enforcing immigration rules for foreign workers, in order to achieve the dual mandate of maximum employment of the local resident population and maximum economic growth for the nation. Approximately 29% of the total population within Singapore are non-resident foreigners, including 255,800 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) who operate in Singapore.