S’pore to sign FTA with Sri Lanka – Another CECA disaster for Singaporean PMETs?

by Vincent Low

The Straits Times today (22 Jan) reported that Singapore will be signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka tomorrow. The signing will be witnessed by PM Lee and his host, Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena. PM Lee will arrive in Colombo today for a 3-day official visit to Sri Lanka.

The details of the FTA have not been made public.

“Sri Lanka is a promising market and a fast-growing economy. It’s also a beautiful country with great tourism potential. On the whole, this FTA is likely to open up huge opportunities for Singapore companies,” said an economist from Maybank Kim Eng.

Note that Sri Lanka currently has a population of 21.2 million, close to four times that of Singapore.

Movement of labour between Singapore and Sri Lanka?

It’s not known if the FTA to be signed between Singapore and Sri Lanka would model after the one signed between Singapore and India in 2005, otherwise also known as India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

In particular, India-Singapore CECA allows for freer movement of labour across the 2 countries.

Firstly, it permits professional bodies like accounting, medical, nursing etc service sectors to negotiate and and recognise each other’s education and professional qualifications. Upon recognition, Indian and Singaporean professionals would be able to practice in Singapore and India respectively.

India-Singapore CECA also facilitates easier temporary entry for 4 categories of persons from India and Singapore:

1. Business Visitors who are holders of five year multiple journey visa will be permitted to enter and engage in business activities for a period of up to 2 months, which upon request, may be further extended by up to 1 month.

2. Short-term service suppliers will be granted temporary entry to service their contracts for an initial period of up to 90 days in the first instance.

3. Professionals employed in 127 specific occupations will be allowed entry and stay for up to 1 year or the duration of contract, whichever is less.

4. Intra-corporate transferees (i.e. managers, executives and specialists within organisations) will be permitted to stay and work in India and Singapore for an initial period of up to 2 years or the period of the contract, whichever is less. The period of stay may be extended for period of up to 3 years at a time for a total term not exceeding 8 years.

In recent years, India has been flooding Singapore labour market with many of their Indian expats through their so-called “intra-corporate transferees”. Indeed, many of their expats working in Changi Business Park came through this category.

“With freer movement of business persons between countries, bilateral trade and investment flows should be significantly enhanced,” India-Singapore CECA stated.

More Singaporean PMETs to be displaced?

It’s not known how many Singaporeans actually benefited from India-Singapore CECA to work in 3rd world India but certainly, judging by the number of Indian nationals ballooning in Changi Business Park and earning SGD, it must have benefited them tremendously.

However, Singapore has been trying to cut the number of professions from India in light of the complaints by citizens as shown in recent articles reporting on the slow down of expat professionals allowed to work in the citystate.

In any case, Singaporeans can only hope for the best with the signing of the new FTA between Singapore and Sri Lanka. Perhaps those displaced Singaporean PMETs can take solace by becoming Uber or Grab drivers, driving Indian and Sri Lankan expats to work in Singapore everyday.

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