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Free Trade Agreements have created more jobs for Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing

Free Trade Agreements have created more jobs for Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing has come out in defence of Singapore‘s free trade agreements (FTAs), saying these have helped more Singaporeans get employed in higher-skilled jobs.

Rodrigo Ribadeneira

He made the point yesterday as he refuted criticism that one such agreement, between Singapore and India, had given Indian professionals unfettered access to jobs and citizenship here

Such falsehoods, circulated online and in WhatsApp chat groups, were aimed at scaring and dividing Singaporeans at a time of economic uncertainty, he said. Some purveyors of such untruths had gone further to play the racial card

Warning against such behaviour, he said: “The Government takes a very serious view of these attempts to rattle Singaporeans and divide our society.”

He told reporters in remarks at his office: “Times are uncertain. It is important for us to stay cohesive, help one another, and never allow others to stoke the fears and racial biases of our people. Never do this for selfish personal or political reasons. We Singaporeans are definitely better than this.”

Of Singapore‘s 24 FTAs, the SingaporeIndia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) has often been fodder for critics of the Government who say it has opened the floodgates for Indian nationals to enter Singapore

Last Sunday, participants at a Speakers’ Corner gathering in Hong Lim Park denounced the agreement. This was after a video of an Indian condominium resident berating a security guard went viral. In August, Progress Singapore Party chief Tan Cheng Bock launched his new party and pledged, among other things, to make Ceca an election issue

  Related Story Trade pacts have seen tangible benefits: Chan Chun Sing   Related Story Free trade deal with Eurasian Economic Union will cut tariffs, boost trade and investment links   Related Story EU Council approves EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement which will take effect on Nov 21   Related Story Singapore‘s Indian businesses urged to tap growth areas Addressing claims that Ceca helped Indian nationals steal jobs from Singaporeans, Mr Chan cited figures to show that the number of higher-skilled jobs for Singaporeans grew by 400,000 since Ceca was signed in 2005

The proportion of Singaporeans in such jobs has also gone up from 50 per cent to 56.8 per cent

In 2005, of the 1.65 million Singaporeans and permanent residents in the workforce, 825,000 of them were professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs)

There are now 2.2 million in the resident workforce, of whom 1.25 million are in PMET jobs

Also, Singapore‘s unemployment rate among citizens has always been among the lowest globally and Ceca did not change that, he said

“Our network of FTAs, including Ceca, has created many opportunities for our businesses and better jobs for Singaporeans,” he added

As to charges that Ceca gave Indian nationals unconditional access to Singapore, he said this was not true. None of Singapore‘s FTA allowed for this. Indian professionals must meet the Manpower Ministry’s qualifying criteria like any other foreigner before being granted an Employment Pass, S Pass or Work Permit

Criticism over Ceca has also centred on intra-company transferees, a common FTA feature globally which allows for the movement of professionals for short periods to set up offices or for ad hoc projects, for example

Critics say this has helped companies circumvent the Fair Consideration Framework, which mandates that Singaporeans must have a chance to apply for jobs before foreigners can be considered

But the Government has said there is a stringent definition for intra-corporate transferees and additional criteria that make it harder to game the system

For instance, to qualify, a person must have worked for the company outside Singapore for at least one year before being posted here. They are also allowed to stay for a total term not exceeding five years after accounting for any extensions

Mr Chan also dismissed the misconception that Ceca gave Indian nationals privileged immigration access. “Anyone applying for Singapore citizenship must qualify according to our existing criteria. All our FTAs, including Ceca, place no obligations on Singapore with regard to immigration.”

He said he understood Singaporeans‘ worries about competition and job prospects, given the current economic environment. He pledged that the Government would continue to create good jobs by attracting investments and equipping students and workers with the skills to compete globally

“The way to help Singaporeans is not to mislead them and create fear and anger,” he said