By A J Jennevieve and Misaki Tan
Singapore — Has CECA, the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between Singapore and India, benefited the island nation?
This was one of the poll questions at the Progress Singapore Party web seminar on Thursday (June 4) which featured a panel of nine party leaders and members, led by PSP Secretary-General Dr Tan Cheng Bock. The two-hour discussion also touched on the Covid-19 crisis, HDB leases, the performance of Malays in school, CPF funds, retirement adequacy and healthcare costs.
The CECA poll showed that an overwhelming number of the respondents felt that the pact had not been beneficial to Singapore.
CECA guarantees Singapore and India access to each other’s markets and reduces or eliminates tariffs on imports into either country. This lowers the barrier of entry for Singaporean businesses to enter the Indian market and allows Singaporeans to purchase Indian products for cheaper.
However, another dimension of CECA is the increase in foreign workforce numbers, especially employment pass and S pass holders. A part of this number are Indian nationals who fill jobs as professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs).
The Singapore government has given the assurance that CECA has been generating wealth for Singaporeans but there is uncertainty about this.
PSP member Kumaran Pillai, who took the question, said: “The official response to CECA from the Government is that CECA has created more jobs for locals … and there’s a kind of a dissonance. While the ministers are saying that, the people don’t feel it.”
CECA, he said, seems to have kickstarted a mass migration which has led not only to social problems, such as integration issues, but economic ones, like job losses.
Mr Kumaran also referred to a unique characteristic of the agreement. It allowed MNCs to go to India and, in return, it enabled Indian nationals to take up IT jobs in Singapore. He asked: “Why can’t locals fill those roles? There were projects, there were opportunities … we should have had a way of dealing with this is a more sustainable way”. He added that the Government was just sweeping things under the carpet.
Fellow PSP member Harish Pillay added to Mr Kumaran’s comments. He felt that part of the problem was the shift in emphasis in the education system. It changed from learning how to write a line of code, to fix things, to build systems, to one of becoming someone to do middle management, project management. Not the hardcore skills on how to write a piece of code to built a solution, to build a product, to solve a particular problem.
“We lost almost a whole generation of potential engineers who could have filled those roles,” he said.
He added: “We failed very miserably in the early part of this century. It has been corrected in the last four to five years but again it is going to take some time to stem that problem.”
As for whether CECA has benefited Singapore, Mr Harish said, perhaps to a little bit. As for whether more Singaporeans could get those jobs, he felt that that was something that needed to be addressed by “we as PSP” to fix that loophole because it does not incentivise locals to take up those jobs. /TISG
A J Jennevieve, a final-year Mathematics and Economics student from Nanyang Technological University, is currently an editorial intern at TheIndependent.sg. In the future, she hopes to build upon her passion for advocating social change through pursuing a career in media publication.
Misaki Tan, editorial intern of TheIndependent.sg, is currently a liberal arts student in Yale-NUS College. Although she has still not decided on a major, she loves reading up on history and understanding crime.
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