FTAs and Ceca made 'political scapegoats', falsehoods need to be corrected: Ong Ye Kung

In his ministerial statement, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung referred to a social media post made by PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai in June.
In his ministerial statement, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung referred to a social media post made by PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai in June.PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS FROM GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has repeatedly made false statements that the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) gives Indian professionals "a free hand" to come and work in Singapore, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

In a social media post in June, PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai had also claimed that foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) and free trade agreements (FTAs) have affected the jobs and livelihoods of Singaporeans, Mr Ong noted in Parliament on Tuesday (July 6).

"These statements are false. They have been repeated for too long," he said, adding that FTAs and Ceca have been made "political scapegoats" to discredit the Government's policies.

As a former trade negotiator, the minister said he felt duty-bound to correct the falsehoods surrounding Ceca and FTAs.

He acknowledged that Singaporean professionals, managers and executives are facing challenges, like those in other advanced economies.

The Government has been taking steps to address their concerns, he added.

"But our FTAs in general, and Ceca in particular, are not the causes of the challenges our PMEs face; if anything, they are part of the solution," said Mr Ong, who was deputy chief negotiator for the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and former director of trade at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Recounting how xenophobia and racism against Indians have been stoked over the past few months, Mr Ong noted that the PSP has claimed for months that FTAs and Ceca have led to the unfettered inflow of Indian professionals, which then displaces Singaporeans from their jobs and brings about all kinds of social ills.

"This is a seductively simplistic argument that workers facing challenges at their workplaces can identify with, and has stirred up a lot of emotions," said Mr Ong, noting that Ceca-themed websites have sprouted, filled with "disturbing xenophobic views" about Indian immigrants.

"Words gradually became deeds, and toxic views turned into verbal and physical assaults on Indians, including our citizens. It is sad that serious issues concerning the economic well-being of our country and workers have descended to this," he said.

This is also why Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had called on the PSP to file a motion on FTAs and Ceca during the Parliament sitting in May, so that the matter could receive a proper public airing, Mr Ong added.

Mr Ong noted that the PSP has since made a public statement on the matter, standing by its views on FTAs and Ceca. It also filed various parliamentary questions requesting more information on foreign PMETs, FTAs and Ceca.

He said he will set out why FTAs - including Ceca - advance Singapore's interest, the causes of Singaporeans' concerns, and how to address them.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng will further elaborate on the matter in a separate ministerial statement, Mr Ong added.