People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Murali Pillai educated some of his Bukit Batok residents about the benefits of Singapore’s free trade agreements (FTAs) with other nations, this week.
Singapore’s FTAs with other nations were thrust into the spotlight in late October, in the wake of the viral incident in which an India-born condo resident berated an elderly security officer who was doing his job.
The incident outraged Singaporeans, many of whom expressed dissatisfaction with CECA – the FTA between Singapore and India – which allows for the free movement of professionals between India and Singapore.
As public dissatisfaction with FTAs like the India-Singapore CECA grew, heavyweight ruling party minister Chan Chun Sing came out to assert that the Government takes a “very serious view” of online falsehoods being circulated on Singapore’s FTAs with other nations.
He said: “These postings and messages are circulated to stoke the fears of Singaporeans in times of economic uncertainties. And some go even further to play the racial card to divide our society. The government takes a very serious view of these attempts to rattle Singaporeans and divide our society.”
The Minister for Trade and Industry added that while the Government “understands and shares Singaporeans’ concerns with competition and job prospects,” it believes that “the way to help Singaporeans is not to mislead them and create fear and anger.”
On Wednesday (11 Dec), Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai revealed that he spread awareness about the benefits of Singapore’s FTAs with some of his residents.
Sharing photos of himself having discussions with Bukit Batok residents at a HDB void deck, Mr Pillai said that he had promised a resident named Doris that he would educate fellow residents on the benefits of FTAs and that he made good on that promise:
“I am making good [on] a promise I made to Doris, whom I met with other residents of Blk 202 over kopi. She asked me to share the key points of what we discussed. The topic was Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between Singapore and other countries and was prompted by a superb ST article published that weekend. According to Doris, not enough of us are aware of the benefits of FTAs.”
Perhaps alluding to the US, Mr Pillai wrote that Singapore “cannot afford” to “wall” itself up “unlike bigger countries with huge domestic economies”.
Asserting that trading is Singapore’s lifeblood and that Singapore “cannot avoid the competition amongst countries to provide goods and services at more competitive prices,” he said that FTAs allow Singapore to have “access to countries’ markets without paying prohibitive tariffs, make our products and services more competitive [and] let our businesses grow and more jobs can be created for us here.”
Adding that nations that sign FTAs with Singapore do so because they want their people and markets to benefit as well, Mr Pillai said:
“It is of course not a one-way street and countries signing with us would also want access to our market and opportunities for their people so that it is a ‘win-win’ situation for all parties.
“Ultimately, Singapore’s FTAs are about strengthening our country’s economic future and ensuring Singaporeans benefit from this too.”
[Awareness for Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)]I am making good a promise I made to Doris, whom I met with other…
Opposition politicians have expressed concern over FTAs like CECA. Earlier this year, Progress Singapore Party (PSP) secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock promised to call for a review of the India-Singapore CECA.
Dr Tan – who is the very first former ruling party MP in Singapore’s history to start his own opposition party – had said:
“We need to ensure job priority for Singaporeans…PSP will call for a review of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, known as CECA.
“Now this agreement, you must understand, was negotiated by our current Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat…Among the terms of CECA: allow the free movement of professionals in 127 sectors to enter and work in Singapore.
“This has brought a lot of unhappiness with Singaporeans PMETs who feel vulnerable in their jobs and are anxious for the future.
“We need the Government to publish a balance sheet for CECA, to show how Singapore and Singaporeans have benefited from this agreement, how many local jobs have gone to Indian professionals and how many Singaporeans have gone to India. We need accountability.”
In October, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan reiterated his concern over the India-Singapore CECA. Pointing to the climbing unemployment rate and the growing number of retrenchments, he wrote:
“Latest MOM Q3 figures show retrenchments and unemployment all going up, and it’s harder for the retrenched to find new work. The PAP makes the situation a whole lot worse by signing agreements like CECA.”
According to preliminary data gathered by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for the third quarter of 2019, the number of retrenchments and the unemployment rate has continued to rise. MOM said last week that the number of retrenchments in the third quarter of 2019 came in at 2,900, which is notably higher than the 2,320 retrenchments that were recorded in the preceding quarter.
Similarly, the unemployment rate also went up. Overall, the unemployment rate went up from 2.2 per cent to 2.3 per cent while the unemployment rate for Singapore residents (including permanent residents) went up from 3.1 per cent to 3.2 per cent.