Misrepresentations of Ceca have caused unnecessary public concern: PM Lee

Jobs, foreign competition are valid concerns, but putting the blame on Ceca will not solve the problem, said PM Lee.
Jobs, foreign competition are valid concerns, but putting the blame on Ceca will not solve the problem, said PM Lee.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Misrepresentations of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) have caused much unnecessary public concern, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who highlighted Tuesday's Parliament debate on the matter.

Mr Lee said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (July 6) that Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng had set out the facts about free trade agreements and Ceca to put the public debate on a sound factual basis.

"Singaporeans are anxious about jobs, foreign competition, as well as the impact of the large number of foreigners working and living here," he said.

"These are valid concerns which we will address. But if we put the blame on Ceca, that will not solve our problem but instead make it worse."

Mr Lee stressed that Singapore needs access to global markets to earn a living. FTAs play a crucial role in letting the country do so, and he highlighted how Singapore's network of FTAs has created investments and opportunities for businesses here, as well as jobs for Singaporeans.

"They have helped make us a leading global hub," added Mr Lee, who also thanked officers who have spent years negotiating FTAs.

In two ministerial statements on Tuesday, Mr Ong and Dr Tan laid out the importance of free trade pacts and debunked falsehoods about Ceca, whose immigration-related elements have come under fire on social media and by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).

They also stressed that changes in foreign workforce numbers over time are to be expected, given that policies, as well as countries' industry needs, change over time.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was Singapore's chief negotiator of Ceca, also posted about the debate on Tuesday.

"Both Ministers Ong Ye Kung and Tan See Leng gave comprehensive explanations to rebut baseless allegations made by the PSP that Ceca gave professionals from India a 'free hand' to enter Singapore. This is simply false," said Mr Heng.

"Nothing in the agreement implies Singapore must unconditionally let in PMEs from India. Contrary to PSP's claim, our ability to impose requirements for immigration and work passes has never been in question in Ceca or any other FTA that we have signed. We must put a stop to this misinformation."

Mr Heng, who rose to speak in the debate on Tuesday, said that he felt compelled to clarify one of the false allegations made related to a chapter in Ceca.

This chapter, on the movement of people, pertains to temporary entry of individuals into both countries and has been highlighted as part of criticisms of Ceca paving the way for Indian professionals to take jobs from locals.

He said in his Facebook post: "I put on record that we did not sacrifice our positions on the 'movement of national persons' as a bargaining chip during the negotiations. This chapter of Ceca - which some wrongly believed allowed Indian nationals free movement into Singapore - was one of the most difficult chapters to conclude.

"But we did not and would not give away the rights to decide who can enter to live, work or reside in Singapore. In the end, we landed on an agreement that benefited both countries, while also protecting our vital interests."