CHINA Ocean Shipping Co (COSCO) is the latest company to join the list of shipowners enjoying Approved International Shipping Enterprises (AIS) status in Singapore, according to Singapore's Business Times . COSCO president Captain Wei Jiafu said: ''Establishing a shipping company under the AIS scheme is a step towards building our shipping activities in the region. Certainly, Singapore will be the base for expansion into chief related activities.'' COSCO, China's largest ship-owning and operating group, estimates that its business spending in Singapore will be at least S$4 million (about HK$19.68 million) in the first year. It has mapped out an aggressive expansion plan. As a first step, it has bought four bulk carriers, one of which flies the Singapore flag. In all, 22 owners have been awarded AIS status, which offers tax advantages. Under the scheme, at least 10 per cent of an owner's fleet must be registered in Singapore. COSCO is likely to operate more ships from Singapore in the future. Capt Wei said the Singapore operating environment and links with the regional economy prompted COSCO to establish a base in Singapore. Commenting on the move, Singapore Trade Development Board deputy chief executive David Chin said yesterday: ''We envisage that COSCO will expand into other business sectors which will generate substantial benefits for the local economy. Being a conglomerate of substantial size, its presence will reinforce Singapore's role as a maritime hub.'' The COSCO group, formed in 1961, is a dominant player in domestic and international trade, with more than 570 vessels. Its network comprises 300 enterprises within China as well as key cities around the world, such as New York, Hamburg, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Apart from shipping, COSCO also is involved in the ship agency business. In November, it acquired a 60 per cent stake in Singapore-listed Sun Corp from Unicentral Corp for $21 million. Sun Corp was later renamed COSCO Investment (Singapore) to better reflect the management control wielded by COSCO Holdings (Singapore). COSCO Investment aims to be a regional investment holding company focusing on shipping-related activities. .