The Financial Year 2015 Budget Statement was recently submitted to Parliament. The 2015 budget focuses on promoting innovation and internationalisation and investing in economic and social infrastructure for the future. Numerous changes to fiscal policy have been introduced pursuant to the 2015 budget. These changes have significant tax implications for potential inbound investors.
Singapore's strong financial centre and stable political environment are among the many reasons why investment in Asia-Pacific starts there. Singapore also offers a competitive corporate tax regime. This update explains the corporate income tax regime in Singapore and tax-related concepts that are relevant to foreign investment, and highlights key considerations for any foreign party intending to invest in Singapore.
A recent decision of the Singapore High Court gives valuable insight into the court's approach to applications for the private direct sale of arrested vessels in Singapore. However, much will depend on the specific circumstances of the case, and the Singapore courts are exercising more caution when dealing with applications for judicial approval of private direct sales in order to safeguard the interests of all interested parties.
As a general rule, a foreign company must set up an appropriate business entity before commencing business in Singapore. The three most common types of business entity used by foreign companies wishing to establish a presence in Singapore are representative offices, branch offices and private companies with limited liability.
The European Union and Singapore recently initialled a free trade agreement, which includes an investment chapter that is still under negotiation. Although the full details are yet to be seen, the chapter is expected to contain provisions on fair and equitable treatment and most-favoured nation treatment, as well as an umbrella clause and a dispute resolution agreement.
Corporate counsel have been closely following new initiatives introduced by the Singapore government this year that affect the hiring of foreign employees. While the initial measures have been relatively moderate, a pattern is starting to develop that could potentially have a large impact on Singapore's workforce – one-third of which is composed of foreign employees.
Much of the business conducted in Singapore involves cross-border transactions, which can often lead to disputes over whose terms and conditions apply. As such, parties aiming to manage their risk and potential liability through terms and conditions that include choice of law provisions should ensure that their contracts are localised to prevent potential conflicts before they arise.
As European corporate clients from civil law jurisdictions expand their businesses and enter into common law jurisdictions such as Singapore, their template contracts most likely need adjustment. Many templates from civil law jurisdictions address damages in the event of breach. Although straightforward penalty clauses are often included, they are generally unenforceable in common law jurisdictions, including Singapore.
The Ministry of Finance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore recently announced plans to implement four new measures to strengthen Singapore's exchange of information framework. Taxpayers and financial institutions should be aware of their reporting obligations and issues that may arise from these measures, especially in the context of preventing cross-border tax offences.
The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) has amended its rules of arbitration to incorporate the latest best practices in international arbitration and reflect SIAC's new governance structure. With these recent changes, SIAC has addressed its increasing caseload and emphasised the promotion of time-efficient proceedings.
Under Singapore arbitration law, parties can opt to have their arbitration proceedings governed by either Singapore's domestic arbitration regime or the international arbitration regime. As a recent case illustrates, when drafting an arbitration clause, it may be prudent to explore the differences between the two regimes in respect of the powers of the court and arbitral tribunals to grant interlocutory orders.
In the 2013 Budget it was announced that from January 2014, housing provided by employers will be taxed on the annual value of the premises. The move marks a tightening of the existing practice, which allows the option of taxation at 10% of the employment income, if that is lower. The change will affect multinational companies that provide housing to their employees working in Singapore.
The High Court recently ruled on an appeal against a decision of the assistant registrar to refuse to stay an admiralty action between foreign parties arising from a collision between foreign vessels of different nationalities. The decision shows a willingness to apply the doctrine of international comity and dismisses the argument that being subject to a lower limitation fund constitutes a juridical or personal disadvantage.
The Media Development Authority has warned Singapore's two main pay-television operators about exclusive arrangements - all pay-television licensees are required to cross-carry each other's content. StarHub and SingTel were suspected of having entered into last-minute exclusive deals before the requirement was introduced, but insufficient evidence was found to bring a formal action.
Negotiations on the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have resulted in a finalised draft, which reflects the changes made during the recent Tokyo round of negotiations. Singapore has already indicated its interest in acceding to ACTA. One of the most controversial aspects of the earlier drafts was the proposed introduction of a 'three strikes' approach to online infringement - an approach Singapore had previously rejected.
In a recent High Court case, the plaintiff sought to invalidate trademarks registered by the defendant comprised of the words 'Emperor Martin' (in equal size fonts) and a star device. The plaintiff sought to invalidate the defendant's mark on the grounds that it was registered in bad faith and/or tainted with fraud, arguing that the defendant never intended to use the mark in its registered form when it was filed under the Trademark Act.
In a recent case the judge rejected a claim by the proprietor of a pork noodle stall for trademark infringement. However, the plaintiff succeeded in a claim for passing off on the grounds that the defendant had reproduced the plaintiff's culinary awards in a newspaper advertisement.
The High Court has clarified the degree of disclosure required on an application for a warrant of arrest. An arresting party is not required to show that it is likely to win the case on the merits before invoking the Singapore court's admiralty jurisdiction. The duty to make full and frank disclosure is strictly meant to ensure that the Singapore court's power of arrest is not being abused or misused by the arresting party.
The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore and the United States Patent and Trademark Office have agreed to extend the patent prosecution highway pilot programme for one more year. This extension will allow both offices to collect more information and to assess the programme's feasibility more fully.
The Court of Appeal's recent decision in The Asia Star is significant to the shipping industry, as the courts have now made clear that it is important for a charterer to consult a defaulting owner on the measures that the former intends to take in order to mitigate the damage caused by the latter's contractual breach.