Monday, December 12, 2011

Where In The World Is Liechtenstein

The additional 10 percent stamp duty for foreign buyers and property speculators seemed to have ruffled a few feathers. The Real Estate Developers' Association (Redas) cried foul, whined about "the lack of consultation" on the government measures. In the past they may have had cosy links with the bureaucrats in charge, at the cost of home owners, but the new normal demands everything to be under the scrutiny of anti-competition watchdogs.

Overseas consultants have joined in the protestations, with some delighting to highlight how Hongkong's non-intervention policy makes investment more attractive - whose non-intervention government also recently announced it may reverse property cooling curbs if so required. And in Britain, non-residents pay no seller's or capital gains tax for playing in the property market. If Singapore is giving all these foreign countries the wrong end of the stick, why is Liechtenstein so favoured?

Liechtenstein National Museum
Liechtenstein is a tiny country with a land area of 160 sq km (compared to Singapore's small 704 sq km) wedged between Switzerland (west) and Austria (east). It has a population of about 35,000, of whom one third are foreigners, a similar ratio as in Singapore. It turns out it is also a member of the Singapore-European Free Trade Association FTA (EFTA), which comprises Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. But the EFTA is just one of a long list of trade agreements signed to reduce or eliminate obstacles to trade and enable cross border movement of goods and services between the signatory countries, e.g.
  • ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA)
  • China (CSFTA)
  • The Gulf Cooperation Council (GSFTA)
  • Japan (JSEPA)
  • Korea (KSFTA)
  • Trans-Pacific SEP (TPFTA)
  • United States (USSFTA)
Someone else must have also wondered about the preferential treatment for the EFTA countries, and the United States(USSFTA), which are as foreign as China and Australia. The press now tells us these exceptional countries have certain exempt clauses in their free trade deals with Singapore. Clauses which do not exist in the other FTAs. Strange, huh?

The only other bit we know about the Liechtenstein connection is that George Yeo signed the FTA in 2002 when he was in the MTI. According to his blog, Liechtenstein's foreign minister then was Ernst Walch, with whom he had a nice lunch and a nice visit to the modern art museum in Vaduz. Walch's daughter studied law at NUS.


  1. Each FTA is negotiated and bargained separately, so there are terms & conditions unique to each FTA. How much give and take depends on who is more desperate and also relationship and guanxi basis.

    E.g. FTA with India contains clause to allow indians in specific industries to have greater freeflow into S'pore, such as IT, engineering, medical, nursing, legal services, airline pilots, aerospace services, marine services etc etc. It's a long list. The FTA also allows Sinkies in similar industries to go to India and work. So MFA and George Yeo can declare that the FTA is very fair to both sides. Of course with the kind of salaries and exchange rates in India, not to mention the necessity to speak/read Hindi, plus the fact that most companies/MNCs in India tend to hire locals, it is not surprising that the human traffic is only 1-way into S'pore.

  2. There was no public scrutiny when all the free trade agreements were signed. Singaporeans were not well informed of what they stand to gain or lose with each agreement signed unlike South Korea and Taiwan. Before anyone knew what was happening, a long list of agreements had already been signed. We can imagine how the elites are laughing themselves to the bank with their increased pay and bonuses because of access to expanded market whilst ordinary Singaporeans are left to defend themselves against exploitation in a freer market. The government has done well economically by riding the wave of free trade agreement but they fail badly in their primary duty by leaving their people behind the wake and worse, denigrate them for not being hardworking enough. True progress of a nation comes when everyone progress together. With widening income inequality, true progress is fast becoming a dream.

  3. Liechenstein is a tiny place that is famed for its tax haven,for anyone (rich billionaires & trillionaires) who want to slush their secret money. Many ex-politicians including Tony Blair has a complex web of companies set up where secrecy is the deal. You can even buy a PO Box and start running a shell business. So what does that tell you? Who knows what kinds of SWF or individuals are registered there to buy our very own national assets without being traced. It could very well be your very own civil servants or MPs!!

    The best part. Citizenship is only by invitation. And after that you have to be elected by its people for approval. But really, who needs citizenship when all you need is a PO Box address to stash your assets & wealth safely. Why are this group accorded with such special treatment like a "local singaporeans" -- you draw your own conclusions.

  4. //Of course with the kind of salaries and exchange rates in India, not to mention the necessity to speak/read Hindi, plus the fact that most companies/MNCs in India tend to hire locals, it is not surprising that the human traffic is only 1-way into S'pore.//

    What do you expect. How many successful indians who have been minted over last decades have you seen will go back to India and help with their own hinterland developments? So few you can count them with your fingers. Most couldn't even bare to go back and face their own people and poverty in the face. The person who signed the FTA is clearly blind sided. The only braves ones who will benefits in the trade are those with deep pockets like SWF or businesses who must be prepared to deal with the corrupted. It won't be the singaporeans man on the street for sure.

  5. Actually so many foreign Indian PMET here now, how many have come forward to speak out for their own foreign workers who have been constantly abused in the construction industries? NONE!

    That's the reason why you shld enjoy your cheap labor as yr govt has traded them at the expense of singaporeans. Like LKY said - human rights,are they bankable?

  6. Simple lah..just ask. If a country has large money stashed in these tax havens, what're the consequences?

    They will be getting arm-twisted in economic and foreign policy formulations. This is the danger faced by our republic. Our national policies may not be formulated in SG (since when do you have a say anyway), but in Washington or else where like Switzerland. Maybe that's why we needed to bail out UBS? Maybe that's why the american hedge funds or GS are all coming into town to play. Maybe that's why LKY say learn American english. What about Iceland? Hmmm...maybe that's why some of our money has collapsed and we need to spread our legs wide open to sell ice to eskimos once again? Only the ex-GIC-head-turned-president knows.

    One thing for sure. The rich keeps getting richer.


    Gd luck to the middle class. Officially sandwiched between cheap indians and expensive americans.

  8. Singapore is actually a big-time legalized money laundering center! A major source of these 'dirty' money comes from some of these 5 exempted countries!

    Singapore Is Not As Clean As It Looks

  9. At one time they say foreigners CANNOT own landed property unless with prior approval. Remember the court case using proxy names not recognised by our laws.

    Then they bend backwards by allowing foreigners to own landed property at Sentosa Cove in clear defiance of our very own set of national laws.

    And now we are told that our recent additional 10% stamp duty does not apply to certain foreigners.

    WTF do we need to have National Laws & regulations that give preferential treatment to certain categories of foreigners over others ?

  10. Who write the Laws?
    who can change the Laws?


  11. the link to Singapore is not as clean as it looks does not take you to an article on money laundering but a sex website!

  12. See for an explanation of why Americans and EFTA nationals were exempted from the ABSD.

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