Understanding the Singapore customs and trade environment

Singapore is consistently ranked by the WTO and other global institutions as one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business. The international trade environment fostered by the Singapore government is open, transparent, and facilitative. Singapore is used by many companies as a logistics hub. Consequently, many of the customs and trade challenges faced by companies are to do with managing transit, transshipment and temporary importation.

Singapore Customs offers a wide range of programmes to importers and exporters designed to allow them to conduct their trading operations in an efficient, low-cost, and compliant manner. The TradeFIRST assessment program has been recently introduced; applying a common set of compliance criteria to allow Singapore Customs to assess the eligibility of businesses for the various facilitation programs. 

Singapore has negotiated a wide network of Free Trade Agreements, Mutual Recognition Agreements, and other cooperative agreements. These agreements offer Singapore based exporters’ customs duty savings and preferential treatment for their goods in countries throughout Asia and beyond.

Although very few categories of goods are subject to duties in Singapore (only four categories of goods attract duty: intoxicating liquors, tobacco products, petroleum products, and automobiles), Singapore Customs and the other Agencies involved in import and export do take trade compliance matters seriously. Importers are expected to properly classify and value their goods and obtain any required licenses regardless of whether or not they attract duty. Exporters are expected to fully comply with the Strategic Good (Control) Act regulating exports of dual-use and military goods and technology.

Our services

Each Industry has its own challenges. Please contact us to evaluate yours. The following are the typical challenges, opportunities and compliance requirements that we see arising for companies trading in Singapore:

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)

  • Qualification requirements for Singapore manufacturers
  • Implications of selling from or through Singapore (e.g. back-to-back certificate of origin/ 3rd party invoicing)
  • Feasibility and quantification of regional duty savings
  • Singapore Customs negotiations and audit support

Import value

  • Automotive and other dutiable industries: defence / audit support
  • Regional related party pricing strategy
  • Unbundling cost components to reduce duty impact
  • Disclosure of transfer pricing adjustments

Export Controls / Strategic Goods Control

  • Compliance Gap Analysis / Health checks
  • Customisation and design of internal compliance program / export management system
  • Operational support (e.g. licensing, automation of control points, creation of standard operating procedures)
  • Voluntary disclosure support
  • Application support for Tier 2 / 3 bulk licensing permit under the Strategic Trade Scheme

Utilisation of customs / trade facilitations schemes

  • Trade First assessment support
  • Zero GST Warehouse / Licensed Warehouse
  • Distribution Centre operations
  • Selection of optimal schemes

Strategic Regional Customs Planning

  • Evaluation of impact of restructuring / reorganisation (e.g. Importer of records / Exporter of records issues, Free Trade Agreement eligibility, change of pricing / transaction parties and its impact on customs valuation)
  • Regional and global customs and trade risk profiling (e.g. snapshot of your Customs & Trade footprint)
  • Location selection support (e.g. manufacturing site, distribution centre) “Trade Intelligence Plus”: dedicated knowledge provision services of developments in trade and customs requirements around the region
  • Design, review and standardization of processes and procedures
  • Centralized training

Case studies

Regional trade strategy planning assignment for a leading global construction and machinery manufacturer

WMS analysed the Asian supply chain from a customs and trade perspective to identify savings and compliance improvement opportunities.

How we helped

  • Significant savings opportunities through the usage of Free Trade Agreements, for both procurement and finished goods sales
  • Incorrect HS Classification of finished products and parts: incorrect codes with tariff impact used in  seven major product classes leading to both overpayment of duties and compliance risk
  • Strategic tariff classification engineering: opportunity to separate machinery resulting in 5%-10% duty reduction
  • Speed to market and cash flow: ‘Green lane’ facilitations unused in three major import markets

Benefit for client

Realised savings of approximately US$ 685,000 per year

Location study for regional distribution centre

US based manufacturing company requiring better coordination/speed to market to respond to increasing business in Asia.  Main markets located in China and Korea with strong growth in Indonesia, India and Vietnam.  Parts manufactured by both related & unrelated parties in Asia, US, and Europe.

How we helped

WMS conducted a location feasibility study to determine optimal location for a Regional Distribution Centre.

The study included:

  • Regional hub connectivity (air and ocean)
  • Trade facilitation / ease of import-export operations
  • Assessment of regulatory environment (license/registration requirements)
  • Warehousing and labour costs
  • Effect on FTA usage

Benefit for client

  • Significant conversion of air to ocean freight = lower logistics costs
  • Reduction of overall material handling costs
  • Improved coordination and speed to market and customer satisfaction
  • Identification and mitigation of risks that may have prevented use of regional Free Trade Agreements


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Contact us

Frank Debets

Managing Partner, PwC Asia Pacific Customs and Trade

Tel: +65 9750 7745

Follow PwC Asia Pacific Customs and Trade Practice