The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) says it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the China Bank Regulatory Commission(CBRC). The agreement is effectively an approval for Chinese banks to invest in SingaporeÆs market through the qualified domestic institutional investor (QDII) programme, making Singapore the third approved market after Hong Kong and the UK.

This is one of the more important trade deals to materialise after the island stateÆs former mentor-minister Lee Kuan YewÆs visited China in November last year. During the visit, Lee and Chinese President Hu Jintao struck agreements for closer economic ties between the two countries. Lee has organised a number of visits to Beijing since 2002. Earlier visits have resulted in approvals for Temasek and GIC's qualified foreign institutional investor (QFII) status in China.

The expansion of the bank-QDII programme will give Chinese banks better access to MAS-approved stocks and mutual funds, but it will also allow them to tap into SingaporeÆs expertise in Asian debt, asset management, even Islamic finance. Its proximity to Asian economies, such as India and Malaysia, also promise diversification opportunities for the Chinese out of North Asia, where their investment portfolios have been heavily concentrated on Korea and Hong Kong.

The CBRC says further agreements with the US, Japan and Germany will be reached in the near future.

This will not be the first time that QDII managers have invested in Singapore. The QDII programme is run by three regulators: the China Bank Regulatory Commission, which oversees banks and trusts; the China Securities Regulatory Commission, an investments and securities regulator; and the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

The securities regulatory commission already recognises 32 countries around the world and QDII managers under this programme are already invested in Chinese small-caps listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Statistics Singapore, a government forecasting agency, says it expects the island state's economy to grow by 4.5%-6.5% this year, from an estimated 7.5% in 2007 and 7.9% in 2006. Daniel Baker, research analyst at Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong, has a more optimistic outlook of 6.9% growth.

Lim Sing-Guan, chairman of SingaporeÆs Economic Development Board, believes the Singapore will remain a compelling investment story for 2008.

ôSingaporeÆs fundamentals remain strong. Stability and predictability remain strong,ö Lim says. He believes Singapore can wiggle its way out of the recession gloom faced by G3 countries.

This year Lim says the economy will be buoyed by another S$16 billion ($11.14 billion) in fixed-asset investments and a forecasted S$8 billion ($5.57 billion) in total business spending. New multinational corporation entries will also help boost the economy. Such entries include: Rolls-Royce, which is setting up a plant to manufacture aircraft engines and assemble large commercial plans like Boeing 787 and Airbus 350XWB; Heptagon, a Swiss-Finnish micro-optics firm; TNT, the largest life science distribution centre; Sony; and Philip-Lucile of the Netherlands.

However, Singapore is not immune to a possible downturn. The Straits Times index has fallen from its recent peak of 3,831 on October 11, 2007 to 2,866 on January 22, 2008. Meanwhile, Singapore's inflation is now at a two-decade high at 4.4%, compared to just 0.9% over the past 10 years.

Over the past year, the Singapore dollar has recorded violent rallies against the renminbi. Since November, the renminbi has been steadily appreciating against the Singapore dollar. The renminbi is now trading at a cross-rate of 0.1980 from a recent trough at 0.1935 points.