Singapore Parliament rejects proposal hitting out at Free Trade Agreement with India

Singapore's Parliament has rejected a proposal from the Opposition hitting out at a free trade pact with India for allegedly paving the way for Indian professionals to take up domestic workers' jobs in this country.

This was the second debate on CECA after one was initiated by the Opposition in July 2021.
This was the second debate on CECA after one was initiated by the Opposition in July 2021. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia

After a marathon debate that lasted two days, the 2005 Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) was singled out by Parliament, according to media reports.

Parliament, where the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has an absolute majority, also passed a motion on securing Singaporeans’ jobs and livelihoods.

The Opposition Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has repeatedly highlighted the CECA with India as an example of how Singaporeans have lost out to foreigners.

PSP's Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai had filed the motion calling upon the government to take urgent and “concrete action” to address the widespread anxiety among Singaporeans on jobs and livelihoods caused by the foreign talent policy and the provisions on Movement of Natural Persons in some free trade agreements (FTA) like the CECA.

This was the second debate on CECA after one was initiated by the Opposition in July 2021.

In his closing remarks, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said Singapore will see more disruptions and volatility in the global economy, with new jobs created and many jobs being transformed or becoming obsolete.

“How Singapore capitalises on these opportunities while addressing the anxieties around jobs will determine our success and whether we remain cohesive and intact as one people,” he said.

He criticised the PSP’s arguments as “simplistic and wishful thinking”, and reiterated that squeezing out foreigners would not lead to jobs automatically going to Singaporeans, the report said.

Wong cautioned that many firms will not set up shop in Singapore if there are manpower policies that restrict them from hiring international talent, resulting in worse outcomes for Singaporean workers.

While Leong acknowledged that Singapore needs foreign talent, he said the government’s foreign employment policies have “displaced” many local professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

Leong said it is better to prevent displacement in the first place, pointing out that the government should “change course” and gradually reduce foreign work pass numbers.

Acknowledging that an open economy has downsides with not everyone benefitting, Wong said, “Some have been knocked down by the winds of change, and it’s not simply a matter of bouncing back on your feet again, especially when you’re older.”

But the government will provide the “best support” it can give to those who have been knocked down, he said.

Wong also cautioned against having “xenophobic undertones” in Singapore politics.

The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between India and Singapore was signed on June 29, 2005 to boost economic ties between the two countries.