EU should stand firm on rights in S’pore trade negotiations

September 20, 2012
Singapore Democrats

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Bryan Lim






Ever since Europe’s extravagant
borrowing and the consequent debt crisis went public two years ago,
the rest of the world suddenly sat up and began to take notice of the
underlying perils and repercussions that such economic malaise would
bring upon their shores.

Of course,
holidaymakers will have
little complaint as they seize the opportunity to stretch their
tourist dollar in Europe, wherein six cities were once ranked amongst
the world’s top ten most expensive
[1].

Incidentally, Singapore is ranked
number ten, and the second most expensive city in Asia. However, we
will not broach the subject of the cost of living in Singapore here
as this will merit a separate discussion. 

You may
then
ask the following question: What has a financial disaster brewing
thousands of miles away got to do with us?

Well, the real
concern here is that in today’s global economy, where market
systems are intertwined and highly dependent on one another, the
ails
in Europe affect Singapore detrimentally.

After all, Singapore is the European Union’s (EU’s) largest economic partner in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region and account for almost a third of ASEAN’s trade with the EU and slightly more than half of ASEAN’s foreign direct investment with the EU[2]. 

This is the primary reason why Singapore is the first ASEAN nation that the EU has approached to negotiate a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (known as the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement or EUSFTA) in December 2009. As of March 2012, both parties have engaged in ten rounds of negotiations and there are strong indications that the negotiations will be concluded soon, probably by the end of this year.

However, we must also realize that the PAP Government will not agree to the social clauses in the EUSFTA that advocate the promotion of human rights, democracy, the rule of law, sustainable development and good governance. 

From what I gathered from the EU parliamentarians during a political conference in Brussels which I attended, the PAP has refused to honour these social clauses and this has dragged the negotiations beyond its projected deadline of end 2011[3].

Our biggest fear is that, out of desperation to get out of their current economic predicament, the EU might succumb to the PAP’s demands to exclude these clauses from the EUSFTA.

You may query: Why should we bother if the EU does not insist on the legal binding social provisions in the EUSFTA?  After all, the FTA presents a win-win situation for both the EU and Singapore.  

If you buy into the above argument, then I am afraid you have been blinded by the economic advantages into disregarding the real implications that such a “lop-sided” FTA would bring to our citizens.

First of all, under such an FTA, your political freedom and civil liberties will continue to be ignored and curtailed.  You will not be able to fight for a minimum wage as the PAP continues to suppress your wages by bringing in cheaper foreign alternatives. When you are deprived of your labour rights, you are politically handicapped to push for a Singaporeans First policy to protect you during unemployment. As housing and healthcare become expensive commodities, your demands for cheaper solutions such as the SDP’s National Healthcare Plan will continue to fall on deaf ears because your social rights have been taken away.

Whilst the EU intends to use the EUSFTA as a political launch pad for deeper economic engagement with ASEAN, we can only hope that the largest political bloc in the world does not forget about its political commitments to this region in their pursuit of commercial benefits. 

The EU must uphold democratic principles and beliefs in the FTAs it signs with ASEAN such that these values do not merely serve as a means for bilateral negotiations but as an end as well. 

The EU must recognize its vast strategic role in shaping and even accelerating the democratization process in ASEAN through trade and investment. It must not sacrifice these political rights in exchange for monetary gain to help itself out of its economic problems.  



References:

[1] UBS Wealth Management Research, “Prices and Earnings Report”, August 2011,
http://www.ubs.com/global/en/wealth_management/wealth_management_research/prices_earnings.html.

[2] EU-Singapore Trade Relations,
http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/singapore/eu_singapore/trade_relation/index_en.htm

[3] Manasinee Moottatarn, EU-Singapore FTA: Rekindling the Hope for a Region-to-Region Agreement?, July 2012,
http://www.eias.org/site.php?id=Newsletter/EIAS_Newsletter_Summer_2012_EU-Singapore_FTA



Bryan Lim is a member of the SDP’s Central Executive Committee and Head of the Ground Operations Unit.