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Minister Iswaran starts 3rd CECA review after 2nd one recognises India’s nursing degrees

India and Singapore are proceeding with the third review of the landmark "Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement" (CECA), which focuses on trade facilitation, e-commerce, customs as well as movement of professional workers (PMETs) between the 2 countries.

Posting on his Facebook page yesterday (1 Sep), Minister Iswaran said he met Indian Minister Suresh Prabhu yesterday morning. "We reaffirmed the longstanding and close bilateral and economic ties between India and Singapore," he said.

Since the signing of the first CECA between India and Singapore in 2005, Iswaran said that there has been an increase in "economic interaction" between both countries.

"CECA has opened up market access for Singapore companies in many sectors including finance, organic chemicals, plastics, and electrical machinery and equipment. Our companies also benefit from CECA’s investment protection and dispute resolution provisions and can do business in India with greater confidence," he added.

He mentioned Ascendas-Singbridge, a Govt-linked company, being one of the Singapore companies which has benefited from CECA.

"Today, we launched the Third Review of the CECA to modernise the agreement and make it easier for Singapore companies to do business," Iswaran proudly announced.

His announcement came four months after both countries concluded and signed the second review of CECA.

Iswaran avoids mentioning movement of labour between SG and India under CECA

Iswaran, however, has carefully avoided mentioning the movement of professional workers between the 2 countries stipulated in CECA.

Since the signing of the first CECA in 2005, in exchange for particularly Singapore GLC investments in India, Singapore has allowed multitude of professionals from India to work in Singapore, displacing some of the Singaporean PMETs. Although CECA also enables Singaporeans to work in India, not many are keen since they will be earning in rupees over there (1 SGD = 52 INR).

And when these Indian nationals start working in Singapore and are in a position to hire, some of them inevitably practise "hiring-their-own-kind", thereby discriminating Singaporean job applicants.

The situation became so bad, particularly in the finance industry, that then Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin and DPM Tharman had to arrange for meetings with the management of a number of financial institutions to tell them off. Said then Minister Tan in Parliament:

"DPM Tharman and I have met up with the senior management of a number of financial institutions on a few occasions to stress the point that financial industry players should make a more concerted effort to develop a local talent pipeline. These sessions have been productive and useful. The management have been quite honest to reflect that they will be more mindful of the need to ensure that discriminatory hiring practices are not entrenched in their industry. Some were quite candid – they honestly said they recognised that they had not paid enough attention to how hiring was done and that unhealthy enclaves had been formed. Others acknowledged that they would need to be conscious of diversity and clustering in their make-up."

Nevertheless, MTI continues to pursue more reviews for CECA.

Second CECA review concluded with recognition of Indian nursing degrees

The second CECA review was concluded in Jun this year. Even though the new CECA enhancement includes expanding tariff concessions for an additional 30 products, it also quietly recognises nursing degrees from 7 Indian education institutes by Singapore.

MTI only briefly mentioned that both countries have "agreed to a Mutual Recognition Agreement on Nursing to facilitate better understand of the Parties' standards in regulating the training and practice of nursing" in the Annex section of its press release.

However, the Indian government was more specific. It said in its press release that Singapore has started recognising nursing degrees from 7 of its education institutions:

The Business Standard of India also reported ('India signs mutual recognition agreement in nursing with Singapore', 1 Jun) that it will be "easier for domestic nurses to explore employment opportunities in Singapore now, as India has signed mutual recognition agreement (MRA) with the south east Asian nation in this sector".

And the Hindu said ('India, Singapore formalise mutual recognition agreement in nursing', 1 Jun) that India has formalized a MRA in nursing with Singapore which would allow "nurses trained in seven nursing institutions across India to gain employment in the South-East Asian country (Singapore)".

In any case, one can be sure that India will definitely continue to press Singapore to mutually "recognise" more Indian degrees of other professions so as to enable more of their PMETs to work here, under the coming third review of CECA. The Hindu even mentioned that architecture and accountancy have been brought up in CECA discussions earlier.

It looks like Singapore may have little choice considering the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars from our GLCs have already been invested and stuck in India. As more Indian degrees of different professions are recognised by our Singapore government, one would expect to see more Indian professionals flooding Singapore's job market.