US firms step up services exports to Singapore

The surplus with S'pore up from US$3.5b in 2002 to US$7.3b last year

[SINGAPORE] American firms appear to have grown more aggressive in exporting services after the Great Recession - and Singapore is one of their major targets, the latest official trade figures from the United States show.

At the same time, the steady rise in the export of Singapore services to the US in the past decade has, at least on average, kept pace with, if not exceeded, the flow coming in the opposite direction, according to figures just released by the US Department of Commerce.

The US has been more adept at selling services than goods overseas in the past 30 years or so, boosting its exports and keeping the US trade balance in services positive.

The annual flow of US private services - mostly business services relating to information technology, management, operational leasing and research and development - to Singapore more than doubled to US$12.3 billion from 2002 to last year, according to the Department of Commerce's figures.

The US's surplus in trade in services with Singapore jumped from US$3.5 billion to US$7.3 billion during this period.

The export of US private services to Singapore rose from US$5.5 billion in 2002 to about US$7.1 billion in 2007 - a US$1.5 billion increase in five years. It then dipped in the next two recessionary years to below US$6.4 billion. Then there was a spike in 2010 when exports surged to US$9.5 billion - an increase of more than US$3.0 billion in just a year.

Even accounting for the setbacks in 2008 and 2009, the pace of US private services exports to Singapore has quickened after the Great Recession. It picked up by US$1.0 billion in 2011 when exports hit US$10.51 billion. And last year, the export of US private services to Singapore rose even higher by US$1.75 billion to US$12.25 billion.

Between 2009 and 2012, shipments of US private services to Singapore soared more than 90 per cent. There was no similar post-recession spurt in the export of Singapore services to the US - largely travel and related business and freight and port services - to the US. The increase was a more moderate 40 per cent.

But over a longer period, Singapore is making better progress than the US in the balance of trade in private services. From 2002 to 2012, the export of Singapore services to the US jumped 149 per cent to US$4.9 billion while US exports to Singapore rose 123 per cent. The result is that the US's trade surplus in services with Singapore narrowed from 2.8 to 2.5 times.

This could change if US firms persist in their post-recession aggressiveness. The renewed US push overseas is worldwide but most evident in high-growth Asian markets. While the export of US services increased 28 per cent in 2009-12 overall, it rose 41 per cent in the region.

Within Asia, the US appears to be most aggressive in Singapore where the shipment of US services has surged 91.2 per cent since 2009. This is followed by China (89.2 per cent), Taiwan (77 per cent), South Korea (41.6 per cent) and Australia (41.5 per cent).

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