Minister Chan Chun Sing throws smoke bomb on CECA concerns, by stating FTAs created more jobs for Singaporeans

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Saturday (9 Nov) that the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) does not grant Indian nationals unconditional access into Singapore or immigration privileges.

Claims that the bilateral agreement has cost job opportunities for Singaporeans aim to stoke fears in times of economic uncertainties, said Mr Chan.

Media reports over Chan’s statement noted that there have been falsehoods surfacing in relation to free trade agreements (FTAs).

Channel News Asia noted one of such falsehoods is that CECA has allowed Indian nationals to take PMET (professional, managerial, executive and technician) jobs away from Singaporeans.

Mr Chan in his statement to the press, clarified that all FTAs, including CECA, place no obligations on Singapore with regard to immigration.

“Indian professionals, like any other professionals from other countries, have to meet MOM’s (Ministry of Manpower’s) existing qualifying criteria to work in Singapore. This applies to Employment Pass, S Pass, and work permit.

“Second, CECA does not give Indian nationals privileged immigration access. Anyone applying for Singapore citizenship must qualify according to our existing criteria,” said Mr Chan.

In response to claims that Singaporeans have lost out on PMET jobs, Mr Chan pointed out that the country’s network of FTAs has, in fact, increased these jobs by 400,000 to 1.25 million since 2005.

However, he did not state how many PMET jobs have been created from CECA. Not to mention, that there was an explosion in numbers of Permanent Residents during the period that Chan had stated. Clearly, the new PRs and new citizens converted from PRs, are those who take up PMET jobs as Immigration and Checkpoint Authority states that only a holder of an Employment Pass or S Pass is eligible to apply for PR.

While Mr Chan acknowledged that economic uncertainties have created anxieties over job security, he asserted that perpetuating fear, is not the right response.

“We understand, and we share Singaporeans’ concerns with competition and job prospects in the current uncertain economic environment. But the way to help Singaporeans is not to mislead them and create fear and anger,” said Mr Chan.

“The way to help Singaporeans is to make sure that first, we expand our markets for our enterprises. Train our workers constantly to stay ahead of competition. Never allow others to stoke the fears and racial biases of our people. Never do this for selfish personal or political reasons,” he added.

Mr Chan said that MOM is aware of companies that have breached fair hiring practices and will weed them out to protect Singaporean workers and businesses.

Controversial terms of CECA

On 29 June 2005India and Singapore signed CECA. This free trade agreement not only enables Singapore and India to trade goods freely, it also allows professionals to work in each other country more easily.

The CECA was concluded after 13 rounds of negotiation and the Singapore’s side was led by none other than Heng Swee Keat, the current PM-in-waiting, who was then Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry. Heng and his team essentially did the ground work together with their Indian counterparts. They then presented their proposals to the politicians for approval.

Some of the areas covered by CECA include: Improved Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, Trade in Goods, Customs, Investment, Trade in Services, Intellectual Property, etc.

However, controversial ones include concluding further Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) so as to facilitate the freer movement of professionals between Singapore and India. It helps to recognise each other’s education and professional qualifications so that Indian and Singaporean professionals from the following five professions could be able to practise in each other country:

  1. Accounting and auditing
  2. Architecture
  3. Medical (doctors)
  4. Dental
  5. Nursing

Already, Singapore now recognises degrees of Indian doctors and nurses from certain Indian universities.

Then, CECA also enables movement of persons between both countries. In particular, 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.

Also, 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.

Politicians ask about issues and benefits of CECA, with no answer provided

While Mr Chan professes that CECA brings jobs to Singaporeans and Indian nationals do not steal jobs from Singaporeans, there does not seem to be any data that support his claim.

For figures, we know that about 5,400 local professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs) were retrenched in 2018. Though it is the lowest recorded level since 2014, against a backdrop of local PMET employment growth of about 34,000, PMET accounted for 79.3% of local retrenchment and 2018 also saw a growth of 11,100 foreign S-Passes across all sectors.

Back in 2016, Workers’ Party Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera asked the Minister for Manpower about the number of intra-company transferees (ICT) from India that have been approved under the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India from the year when the agreement came into effect to the latest year for which data is available. But in response, then-Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the ministry does not disclose data on foreign manpower with breakdown by nationality, including data on ICTs.

This policy of non-transparency remains the same till today.

Earlier this year, Dr Tan Cheng Bock stated at the official launch of Progress Singapore Party that his party will ask the government to come up with a balance sheet to account for how Singapore has benefited from the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which it signed with India to allow citizens from India and Singapore to travel to each country to seek employment.

“How many local jobs have gone to Indian professionals and how many Singaporeans have gone to India?” asked Dr Tan.

In theory, of course, CECA could also benefit Singaporean professionals wanting to work in India but how many Singaporeans really want to work there to earn in rupees?