by Henry Tan
The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) became effective on 1 Aug 2005, and a Second Protocol amending certain parts came into force on 14 Sept 2018.
The Second Protocol did not amend Chapter 9 on Movement of Natural Persons which relates to Indian National entering Singapore.
CECA came into the spotlight after an incident in 2019 involving an Indian man who was later found to have taken Singapore citizenship.
The incident provoked activists to organise an event at Hong Lim Park in November the same year that rode on general unhappiness over the Government’s plan to raise Singapore’s population to 6.9 million and deteriorating employment for certain layers of society despite a growing economy.
CECA then simmered until a few short video clips surfaced on social media during the COVID-19 restrictions, showing Indian-looking persons receiving racial remarks.
The Law and Home Affairs minister believed that rumors about CECA had something to do with the racial exhibits, and challenged a Member of Parliament (MP) to table a debate on CECA, which he did. The debate has been reported.
Unfortunately, this whole saga is an obfuscation.
If the Chapter 9 in CECA was already enshrined in 2005, why did the government not explain that in 2019 when it first became an issue? In fact, it should have been explained earlier in 2005.
Neglecting this and withholding data have given currency to the reasonable deduction that the large influx of Indian nationals can be associated with CECA.
The MPs who raised this issue outside or inside parliament are giving their constituency a voice for their unhappiness as they increasingly encounter large groups of Indian nationals.
Senior parliamentarians tried to confuse the issue by claiming that such acts were just stirring up rumours and causing trouble.
The saga was further muddied by implying that not supporting CECA per se amounts to not supporting FTAs in general, or being xenophobic or nationalistic – none of which are really true.
The same unhappiness would have developed had CECA been made with another nation.