Chee Soon Juan Argues That Free Trade Needs To Come With Political Freedom.

Singapore is no stranger to free trade agreements (FTAs).

IE Singapore’s website lists over 20 FTAs in force, with countries like Australia, the United States, China, Japan and others.

The big one coming up would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a regional FTA that has been under negotiation for several years. It could be concluded by early 2015.

FTAs Fail To Benefit Singaporeans

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While trade agreements are generally good, Chee Soon Juan contends in a blogpost on Huffington Post that they serve only to benefit businesses, allowing them to exploit cheap labour. They’ve not benefitted the average Singaporean.

His point?

  • We work more hours than in most other countries;
  • Our workforce is unhappy;
  • Income inequality is high;
  • We’re ranked among the most expensive cities to live in, but there’s no minimum wage here;
  • Almost 50 percent of Singaporeans have no savings;
  • CPF isn’t providing enough retirement funds;
  • Young graduates face underemployment and limited opportunities;
  • Only the rich have a good life in Singapore.

Mr Chee therefore urges Western leaders to stop ignoring the lack of democracy and human rights abuses in Singapore.

Only then, he says, will our society be better off from the FTAs.

“Without freedom there can be no free trade; without democracy there can be no workers’ rights and without workers’ rights, FTAs are only tools for exploitation”.

 Trade At All Cost?

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Trade is important to Singapore, and FTAs are one way to enter new markets.

Just as both PM Lee and DPM Teo have assured Singaporeans that the Government isn’t pursuing growth at all costs, perhaps we also shouldn’t enter FTAs at all costs.

Leaked drafts from the TPP negotiations have shown that clauses are being added that will benefit only the wealthy elites and big corporations.

Perhaps Chee Soon Chuan is right. We need to start looking out for the common man. What otherwise is the point of these FTAs if the advantages don’t trickle down to everyone?

 


With reference to Huffington Post
Image via Singapore Customs
Featured image via ABC