Singapore's network of free trade agreements (FTAs) has helped many local companies expand overseas, allowing them to grow their markets, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.
These include the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) between India and Singapore, which has recently been criticised by some quarters for allowing a freer inflow of labour.
Addressing misconceptions over the pact inked in 2005, Mr Chan said Ceca has also reduced or eliminated tariffs on 82 per cent of Singapore's exports to India, including electrical machinery and plastic products.
This has brought benefits to home-grown brands like Tee Yih Jia, which has seen import duties for its frozen food items reduced from 30 per cent in 1990 to zero by late 2011 after Ceca came into force. Since then, the firm has seen steady growth in its business in India and has expanded to smaller cities.
Investment protection and dispute resolution for Singapore companies have also improved, he said. Bilateral trade has also grown by over $10 billion, to $26 billion.
Mr Chan was making the point that FTAs have benefited Singaporeans, as he called out falsehoods being spread about such pacts that were aimed at stoking fear.
He added that he understood and shared concerns some Singaporeans had over competition and job prospects in the current economic climate. He also said his ministry, the ministries of Education and Manpower (MOM), and the National Trades Union Congress were working to help Singaporeans tide over the global slowdown.
One way is to expand the markets for Singapore enterprises, he said.
Two, companies have to build up their capabilities to compete on the basis of innovation, quality and connectivity rather than price or size.
Three, Singaporean workers must get training to stay ahead of the competition. "While we cannot shield our enterprises and workers from global competition, we must do everything and we will do everything possible to equip our enterprises and workers to thrive in the global competition," he said.
"We are all doing this as one Team Singapore to help Singaporeans thrive in this uncertain environment," Mr Chan added.
He also acknowledged that there have been employers who chose to circumvent the Fair Consideration Framework which aims to protect Singaporean workers, but said such employers were in the minority.
Less than 1 per cent of firms that hire foreigners on Employment Passes are on MOM's watch list for flouting the framework. "We will systematically weed them out to make sure that we protect our workers and businesses. The companies know the deal - those who violate our rules will be taken to task. We have done it, they know it," said Mr Chan.
"I can understand that there may also be individuals who feel that they should have been given a chance for certain jobs. I am glad that the aspirations of such workers are high," he added. "Assuming that they are equipped with the right skill sets and they feel that they are unfairly treated, they should let MOM know. And MOM will certainly investigate."