Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing has attempted to defend the existence of the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) by trying to state some of Ceca’s contributions to the Singaporean economy.
At a recent interview, Chan stated that Singapore’s trade with India has grown by $7.6 billion and investments which is 34 times since the inception of CECA in 2005.
While we will not challenge the figures, what is missing here, is information on how that trade and investment growth has actually benefited the average Singaporean?
Of course, the companies may well have made money and those at the helm may also have seen an increase in earnings. However, how have these investments and trade contributed to the man on the street? Chan has not provided data on how the growth of the economy has created more high quality jobs for more Singaporeans or how many high quality jobs have been created as a direct result of that trade or investment increase?
Just stating the increase in trade or investment in itself is meaningless if it does not translate into actual tangible benefits for the majority of Singaporeans. It is the same as banging on about Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures without dissecting if the increased GDP has led to a better standard of living for Singaporeans.
Secondly, Chan says that CECA protects Singaporean companies that invest in India and also attracts foreign investors who invest in India who in turn employ Singaporeans to manage their investments.
According to Chan, these companies employ nearly 100,000 Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs) which he then refer to this figure as being Singaporeans. However, he states that he does not have the figure when asked how many of the CECA intra-companies transferees were converted to Singaporeans.
Furthermore, Chan has not provided a proven link to show that these Singaporeans would not have been employed but for CECA. Were these 100,000 employed because of CECA or would they have been employed anyway? Also, what type of jobs are these 100,000 jobs? Are they high quality desirable jobs?
Has there also been a recent comprehensive cost/benefit analysis done to ensure that the number of high quality jobs generated makes the concessions given under CECA worthwhile?
Chan went on to say that CECA gives Singapore a better access to a huge market like India as well as the benefits of tax savings that come from tariff reductions which in turn allows us to grow our capabilities. No one is saying that CECA has no benefits. The questions are whether or not the the trade offs are justifiable alongside the gains?
This is an analysis that can only be made if Chan provides, among other things, a breakdown of how many high quality jobs have been created directly because of CECA versus the number of foreigners that have been hired over Singaporeans. Chan should also provide figures on what the tax savings are and whether or not the benefits of these tax savings has actually gone into higher salaries for workers?
For example, if all the tax savings have simply been kept within the company or only distributed among top management or used to hire foreigners, how does this help the country as a whole?
Back in 2005, CECA may have been the right thing to do. But now in 2020, do we need to re evaluate and re negotiate?
Does CECA work for the majority of Singaporeans or just the few at the top?