Brexit unlikely to have big impact on Singapore, say experts

Supporters of the "Leave" camp gathering around a campaign bus in Truro earlier this month. One economist has said that where Singapore is concerned, trade and investment flows would not change with Brexit as British goods do not get a preferential t
Supporters of the "Leave" camp gathering around a campaign bus in Truro earlier this month. One economist has said that where Singapore is concerned, trade and investment flows would not change with Brexit as British goods do not get a preferential tariff since the EU-Singapore free trade agreement has not been ratified. There is no Singapore-Britain trade agreement.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

A British exit from the European Union is unlikely to have extensive implications for Singapore, at least in the long run.

With a crucial vote due in a month's time, economists and companies say that the impact of "Brexit" on the Singapore economy and businesses would be muted.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said any hit would likely be limited to the financial sector, despite the country's strong business links with the United Kingdom.

WHAT THEY SAY: VOTE LEAVE

RECLAIMING CONTROL

It is between taking back control of our money - or giving a further £100 billion (S$200 billion) to Brussels before the next election. Between deciding who we want to come here to live and work - or letting the EU decide. Between a dynamic, liberal, cosmopolitan, open, global, free-trading, prosperous Britain, or a Britain where we remain subject to a undemocratic system devised in the 1950s that is now actively responsible for low growth and, in some cases, economic despair.

MR BORIS JOHNSON, MP and former mayor of London


BETTER OFF

I think the migration has been a horrible thing for Europe. A lot of that was pushed by the EU. I would say that they're better off without it.

MR DONALD TRUMP, businessman and US presidential candidate


TIES WILL ENDURE

Britain is Europe's leader in intelligence and security matters, and gives much more than it gets in return. It is difficult to imagine any of the other EU members ending the relationships they already enjoy with the UK.

MR RICHARD DEARLOVE, former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) 


PROXY GOVT? NO, THANKS

You've now got, in Europe, a sort of government by proxy of everybody who has now got carried away, and I think, unless there's some extremely significant changes, we should get out. You cannot be dictated to by thousands of faceless civil servants who make these rules.

 MICHAEL CAINE, actor WHAT THEY SAY: VOTE REMAIN

"Singapore would feel more of an impact from the uncertainties created by the volatility of markets than its regional peers, being a financial hub. There would likely be a knee-jerk reaction affecting equity markets and currencies," he said.

But trade and investment flows would not change, he added, noting that British goods do not get a preferential tariff as the EU-Singapore free trade agreement (FTA) has not been ratified. There is no Singapore-Britain trade agreement.

"For British companies here and Singaporean companies for which Europe is a key export market, Brexit would not make a difference," Mr Seah said. "We should be mindful of a potential exit, but the impact on Singapore is potentially less than what the foreign houses are saying."

Mr Brian Tan, a fund manager at Pilgrim Partners Asia, saidBrexit would affect all markets, but could hit UK equities particularly hard.

"Markets are looking shaky, and corporate earnings are weak, so Brexit, a major geopolitical risk, could be a catalyst for a major sell-off," he added.

In contrast to uncertain markets, Singapore firms with UK assets are more confident of their prospects.

Mapletree Investments acquired a vast business park in a deal estimated to be over £500 million (S$1 billion) last week, while developer City Developments Limited (CDL) acquired an office building redevelopment property in East London for £37.4 million this month.

Mr Chua Tiow Chye, group chief investment officer of Mapletree Investments, said while Brexit would pose short-term risks, the UK's medium- to long-term fundamentals remain intact. He added that they were confident of their portfolio of offices and student accommodation.

Likewise, CDL chief executive Grant Kelley said that most of the firm's nine UK projects cater to the local market, insulating them from the impact of a potential Brexit.

Analysts covering Singapore firms with some UK operations such as ComfortDelGro and SembCorp Industries did not think Brexit would have an effect. SembCorp declined to comment while Comfort did not respond to queries.

Mr Roy Chen, a CIMB analyst, believes the main impact on ComfortDelGro would be on its translation of foreign currency earnings.

Local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to internationalise are undaunted by a potential Brexit. The Europe Enterprise Network (EEN), a collaboration between IE Singapore, the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and Intellectual Property Intermediary to give local firms access to partnership opportunities in Europe, has not seen a slowdown in interest.

EEN has seen a 30 per cent jump in firms registering on the platform since last month's launch.

Ms Selena Ling, OCBC's head of treasury research and strategy, said Brexit's key impact on Singapore would depend on how it affects EU markets. Foreign direct investment into Singapore from the EU, excluding the UK, was 17.3 per cent of the total invested here while Britain accounted for 6.7 per cent, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Leaving 'unlikely to have big impact on S'pore''. Print Edition | Subscribe