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The SDP is deeply concerned about newspaper reports that US Republican congressional leaders have criticized President Bill Clinton’s negotiations with Singapore to sign a free trade agreement because it includes labor and environmental standards.
Singapore is run by an authoritarian government that does not respect the rights of the people. Because of this, Singaporeans do not have independent and free trade unions to represent them. The National Trades Union Congress, the umbrella labor organization, is headed by a cabinet minister. This has led to a situation where wages have been constantly suppressed just to keep Singapore competitive for multinational companies. The Global Competitiveness Report 1999 showed that of 59 countries surveyed, Singaporean workers ranked 56 in terms of their levels of wages, after accounting for productivity. Only Russia, Ecuador and Ukraine fared worse. Meanwhile the ruling and economic elite continue to draw in enormous wealth, making Singapore’s incoming disparity one of the biggest in the world.
Furthermore, the Economic Sustainability Index 2000 ranked Singapore as the ninth worst country out of 158 over a range of environmental factors including air and water quality, the impact of population growth to pollution on nature, and how well a country tackles problems such as ozone depletion. Earlier in October this year, the Swiss-based World Wildlife Fund for Nature ranked Singapore as the world’s second greediest user of natural resources as well as the second highest producer of the greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide.
It is abundantly clear that labor and environmental issues are of prime importance in Singapore. The US government must be aware of the problems Singaporeans face in an undemocratic system. Any negotiation for a free trade agreement that does not take into account labor and environmental standards will only benefit Americans and the elite in Singapore at the expense of ordinary Singaporeans. Such an approach is unintelligent as it does not support sustainable development. It also smacks of exploitation. If the US government is committed to seeing democracy flourish throughout the world, it cannot ignore issues that concern the lives of ordinary citizens.
Chee Soon Juan