There have been a few heated debates in parliament regarding the relevance of the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). There’s talk going around that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and CECA has allowed foreigners to come in and “steal” jobs from Singaporeans. The most recent one is PSP alleging Indian professionals from India can come into Singapore to work unconditionally under CECA.
These allegations have caused unrest and division, with the increased number of racist acts committed against the Indian community in Singapore.
What is CECA? FTA whaaaa?!
Let’s start with the basics. FTA stands for Free Trade Agreements, and are legally binding international treaties between two or more trading partners that seek to promote trade by reducing barriers to trade in goods, services, and investments. This basically means that with the FTAs, most Singaporean exporters will not be subjected to stringent rules of trade, and stand to receive preferential tariff treatment beyond a trading partner’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) commitments.
The CECA is one of the many agreements under the FTA, and stands for the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. CECA allows Singapore’s exporters to increase their exports to India’s larger consumer market in areas such as – food products, plastics, electronics, pharmaceuticals and mechanical appliances. The implementation of such FTAs like CECA have allowed homegrown businesses such as BreadTalk and Teh Yih Jia to expand into the Indian Market.
Sounds good… so what’s the problem?
There have been many misconceptions surrounding the CECA and FTAs, the most toxic being the one that claims that CECA grants Indian nationals unconditional access to Singapore and immigration privileges. In Chapter 9 of the agreement on movement of natural persons, it states;
“This Chapter shall not apply to measures pertaining to citizenship, permanent residence, or employment on a permanent basis.”
This agreement does not mean that Singapore is obliged to automatically grant Employment Passes (EP) to Indian nationals. Because of this misconception, many Singaporeans have a preconceived prejudice against Indian nationals and their presence in Singapore, blaming them for taking jobs, housing and/or spaces in schools. This prejudice will eventually lead to division, and if left untreated, might even potentially lead to hate crimes. We can already see this happening with the number of acts of racism that have been floating around on social media.
There’s no point debating about CECA and FTAs in parliament when the concept of immigration and globalisation is something that opposition leaders cannot grasp.
Singstat released Census 2020, a national survey conducted every 10 years on the key characteristics of Singapore’s population. One prevalent, and consistent worrying trend that has been spotted is of course the fact that Singapore is moving into an ageing population. Seniors account for 15.2% of the population in 2020 (as compared to the 9% in 2010). Many people are also staying single for longer and as a result, the nation’s total fertility rate has continued to decline.
This means that in the coming decades, Singapore’s local workforce will be unable to support its economy. Immigration and bringing in foreigners will be necessary to support our ever growing economy and fill in the gaps.
Domestic sentiment against immigration has deteriorated, many citing CECA of how the Government is favouring foreigners for PMET jobs over Singaporeans.
In another sharing by PM Lee, 1,200 workers at IM Flash Singapore, six in 10 employees are Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs), and four in 10 are foreigners. Furthermore, two-thirds of the managerial and professional positions are taken up by Singaporeans and PRs, while two-thirds of the technician and manufacturing jobs are done by foreigners. For every one foreign worker, 1.5 local jobs in this project have been created.
There are also frameworks in place, such as the Fair Consideration Framework that sets out requirements to promote fair employment practices and to consider all candidates instead of discriminating against age, gender, nationality or race.
What would our lives look like without the FTAs and Immigration?
In a world where more and more countries are turning inwards and protectionist and trade wars are being waged with ugly consequences, FTAs such as CECA help to protect against unfair trading practices.
Singapore lives by trade. What started off as a fishing village eventually became a bustling trading port due to the strategic location of our tiny island on the world map. Without having numerous FTAs with other nations and countries, we won’t be able to survive because of our tiny market size. The truth of the matter is… there is an ever growing need for businesses to venture outside of Singapore. Our sexy image of being a global hub is what has helped Singapore grow so rapidly in less than a decade in a world where industrialisation is the norm.
It shouldn’t be difficult for us to understand the conclusion – Singapore without FTAs? Bad.