• N15;
  • O47;
  • E32;
  • C22
  • colonial Singapore;
  • economic fluctuation;
  • entrepôt trade;
  • staple theory

Our paper enquires into the nexus between trade, growth, and fluctuations in the British colony of Singapore during the early twentieth century. Hitherto, little quantitative economic history has been written on this great entrepôt of Southeast Asia due to a lack of data. We overcome this limitation by utilising the gross domestic product series recently constructed for the pre-war period by Sugimoto. This comprehensive data set enables us to explore the relevance and applicability of the staple theory of export-led growth to colonial Singapore through cliometric analyses. The results suggest that foreign trade had acted both as an engine of growth and a source of economic instability.