Barely a week ago, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing (Chan) heralded the new trade deal agreement with the United Kingdom (UK) with great fanfare. While Britain’s International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, praised Singapore for its leadership on free trade, Chan declared that the deal would provide “British businesses a platform to access opportunities in the region through Singapore”.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with free trade agreements with other countries. If properly negotiated with mutually beneficial terms, it is a boon to be celebrated.
Yet, it would appear that the UK is also simultaneously drawing up plans to turn London into a rival of Singapore in the shipping space – wanting London to be a hub for shipping companies to register vessels after the Brexit transition period. In other words, while professing friendship and cooperation with Singapore, it is also attempting to steal Singapore’s shipping business in a post-Brexit world. In fact the Financial Times has a bold headline : “UK draws up plans to rival Singapore with post-Brexit shipping regime”
According to the Financial Times, “revamping the UK’s shipping tax and regulation regime could be worth £3.7bn to the economy over three years and create 2,500 high-quality jobs directly, as well as 25,000 in related companies”.
This could result in significant losses to Singapore’s shipping sector. Has the Singapore Government considered this or made any preparations to protect our own shipping business?
There is no suggestion that the UK pushing ahead with its “shipping hub” plans contravenes with the free trade deal agreed with Singapore. Yet, it does seem a little odd and discomfiting to read this bold declaration of competition so soon after promises of cooperation were so publicly made.
While it is understandable for any country to do its best for its own people, I just wonder if the Singapore Government also thinks in the same vein? Are concessions granted by Singapore only going to benefit big businesses and corporates or will the average Singaporean also benefit?
Recently, the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which was signed between both countries in 2005 has come under much criticism. Many have raised concerns with the one-sided nature of CECA.
To make clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with foreigners and foreign talent. It only becomes an issue if a foreign talent pool is in direct competition for a limited number of jobs that Singaporeans with the same qualifications can similarly and seamlessly perform.
Arguments for the fact that that the balance has tipped in favour of foreigners seem to be convincing given that there appears to be data suggesting that foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET) numbers have increased in Singapore which coincided with the number of unemployed Singaporean PMETs increasing. In other words, there is some suggestion that CECA has favoured foreigners over Singaporeans
Some have even questioned its utility for the general wellbeing of Singapore.
Has Singapore signed yet another potentially one-sided agreement with another country?