Free trade agreements, Ceca to be debated in Parliament next week

Parliament is expected to sit for two days starting July 5, 2021.
Parliament is expected to sit for two days starting July 5, 2021.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng will deliver ministerial statements on Singapore's free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) in Parliament next week.

They will explain the importance of FTAs to Singapore, how these work, and in particular - address "false allegations that FTAs allow foreign professionals a free hand to live and work in Singapore", Mr Ong added in a Facebook post on Thursday (July 1).

Bringing up two recent incidents of verbal and physical assaults on Indians in Singapore, he said these had occurred amid an "undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians over the past two years".

"There are concerns from Singaporeans that need to be addressed, but the unhappiness is also fuelled in no small part by false allegations by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) about how the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement has given Indian professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) a free hand to come here to work," Mr Ong said.

He noted that during the previous Parliament sitting in May, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had called on the PSP to file a motion on FTAs and Ceca in Parliament.

This would allow for a proper debate on the matter, and for MPs to discuss what is at stake for Singapore and shine a light on untrue statements about Ceca, Mr Ong said.

Many MPs, including PSP NCMPs, have filed parliamentary questions on the matter ahead of the PSP's proposed motion, he added.

Dr Tan will answer those questions as Manpower Minister and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, while Mr Ong said he would speak in his capacity as a former trade negotiator.

"We will also move to open our ministerial statements for debate. This will allow members of the PSP to respond to our statements if they wish to."

In response to Mr Ong’s post, PSP secretary-general Francis Yuen told The Straits Times his party welcomed the debate and urged the Government to release all related employment data in Parliament.

But he added that PSP was “bewildered” by Mr Ong’s “baseless allegations” that the party had contributed to the undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians through the false statement that Ceca gave Indian PMEs a free hand to work in Singapore.

“This is a serious allegation made without facts as to where and when such alleged false statements were made by PSP. Unless there is evidence to back his allegation, the minister should withdraw his statement and make an apology,” Mr Yuen said.

He also said the debate was over foreign PMEs and not racial tension, and that the PSP’s Non-Constituency MPs, Mr Leong Mun Wai and Ms Hazel Poa, would debate the issue vigorously in Parliament. 

Parliament is expected to sit for two days starting next Monday.