Singapore — The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) is not against free trade agreements (FTAs) and fully support them. However, we are concerned about the price being paid, said Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai.

Mr Leong, along with NCMP Hazel Poa, aired the party’s stance on FTAs, namely the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between Singapore and India.

PSP leaders have noted on several occasions that CECA allowed for a “free-flow” of Indian PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) into Singapore.

In response to such claims, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng delivered ministerial statements in Parliament on Tuesday (Jul 6), reiterating that such FTAs had benefited Singaporeans greatly through job creation.

Mr Ong also addressed PSP’s “false allegations” regarding CECA and the movement of natural persons.

At the beginning of their statements, both Mr Leong and Ms Poa agreed that FTAs are necessary for Singapore and that their party “fully supports” such policies.

However, they did not confirm support for CECA.

Ms Poa, who spoke first, extended three clarifications for Mr Ong. She asked for the specifics such as the date and source of PSP’s “false allegations” on CECA.

Her second concern was regarding the provision of information that PSP had requested, noting the bulk of their questions were not covered in the ministerial statements.

Ms Poa asked if there would be any more data forthcoming, whether in the form of written replies.

She also focused on a clause in CECA’s Chapter 9, stating that Singapore or India “shall grant temporary entry and stay” to professionals.

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Ms Poa wished to clarify if the clause meant Singapore is “obliged” to grant entry to an application if an individual met the conditions.

“We agree that FTAs are important to Singapore’s economy. We are not calling for the abolition of FTAs. Our concern is over specific provisions in FTAs relating to the movement of natural persons,” she noted.

Mr Ong responded by giving the specifics when PSP had made the “false allegations.”

He also said that they have “tried their best” to provide all the data requested. “No country release data in that level of granularity,” he noted.

Speaking on the CECA clause highlighted by Ms Poa, Mr Ong defined the word “shall,” agreeing that it is an obligation to comply with the provision it supports.

However, the ordering of the clauses matter as well, said Mr Ong.

He reiterated that the agreement’s “carve-outs” at the beginning indicate exceptions within trade deals covering sensitive areas such as immigration, national security and taxation.

The clause referred to doesn’t apply or cover immigration measures such as granting work pass or citizenship, said Mr Ong.

He also confirmed that CECA doesn’t give Indian nationals a “free hand” to live and work in Singapore. It gives them the opportunity to apply but does not oblige Singapore to approve the application.

Mr Ong agreed that globalisation is a difficult thing. However, in Singapore’s case, it has allowed the creation of jobs, thus benefiting Singaporeans by avoiding scenarios such as stagnating wages or graduates not finding jobs.

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In his speech, Mr Leong listed out his questions, noting they were “feedback gotten from the ground.”

“In the process of negotiating an FTA, what is our position, what are the bargaining positions we can give. Because I read things like we don’t have many bargaining chips, so the implication is we may have to be a bit more relaxed with the movement of people. Are the movement of people or natural persons used as one of the bargaining chips when we are negotiating the FTA?” he asked.

Mr Leong also focused on Ministry of Manpower (MOM) policies, saying they are “quite relaxed” when granting entry to foreigners.

He further wondered why the education system was not producing enough Singaporean talents, building on Dr Tan’s earlier statement that Singapore’s talent pool is “not large enough to fill all of the needs of enterprises.”

Among other questions, Mr Leong asked why the People’s Action Party (PAP) government did not introduce anti-discrimination policies such as the Fair Consideration Framework when introducing the “foreign talent policy” 20 years ago.

He highlighted that the group dynamics at any workplace could change quickly with changes of nationality. “Did MOM not take that into consideration?” he asked.

Mr Leong also requested clarifications on the number of Singaporeans displaced over the last decade and the number of foreigner PMET in the Information Technology (IT) and finance sectors versus Singaporeans and permanent residents.

“We have been extremely successful in growing the Singapore economy, creating this multitude of jobs. All of this would not be possible if we did not ride the wave of globalisation. I mentioned that our only problem is that there is not enough of us,” said Mr Ong in response to Mr Leong’s statements.

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He further added that policies are never static but continuously reviewed to ensure they match the current environment.

Dr Tan also responded to Mr Leong’s questions, admitting he “struggled” to follow the latter’s line of reasoning.

He explained that Singapore’s economy had seen fairly dramatic transformations in its core industries every 10 to 15 years.

Therefore, it is to be expected that policies need to be refined and adjusted over time, he said.

When asked again about PSP’s stance on FTAs and CECA, Mr Leong said he has not yet decided on CECA as a whole, although he is reassured that Singaporean’s jobs and livelihoods had not been used as a bargaining chip.

He said that more study needs to be done on the numbers provided by the ministers to see whether CECA has contributed to the overall influx of nationals from country. /TISG

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ByHana O