Singapore, transhipment and illicit goods

Changes are proposed to the Singaporean customs regime. The aim is to increase the country’s attractiveness as a transhipment hub. Singapore is already the largest transhipment port in the world. But industry is worrying that the amendments leave enforcement gaps and increase the volumes of counterfeit and other illicit goods passing through Singapore.

A public consultation is under way. One change relates to the submission of manifest data which must be provided within 24 hours of arriving and 48 hours of exiting Singapore. Normally this must contain particulars such as the quantities, brands and description of goods. The amendments allow for exemptions for large swathes of shippers.

The European Chamber of Commerce opposes this - “Singapore’s free trade zone (FTZ) [is] vulnerable  to abuse as it weakens the country’s governance of them”. Indeed the Illicit Trade Environment Index cites Singapore’s 7 FTZs as a serious risk over the trade in illicit including fake goods. The Economist Intelligence Unit identified Singapore as a problem due to a lack of vigilance over its FTZs. Basically they said that Singapore look the other way while large quantities of illicit and counterfeit goods pass through its port destined across the world. Singapore earns income from every container that passes through it, so looking the other way reaps the country a lot of money for the suspected volumes of illicit goods including fakes, travelling across the globe which are transhipped through Singapore.

Singapore still does not allow for customs recordals but requires rights owners to initiate civil proceedings to obtain civil court orders to seize fake imports, at great cost.  But for transhipped goods there is virtually no policing at all. Add to that the use of Indonesia’s nearby FTZ in Batam for export processing and long time experts in the region quietly talk of transhipment of illicit goods being Singapore’s dirty little secret.