Review of Singapore trade pact unaffected by foreign manpower concerns: India

Review of Singapore trade pact unaffected by foreign manpower concerns: India
TODAY file photo
Published: 8:57 PM, April 5, 2017
Updated: 8:40 AM, April 6, 2017

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s foreign employment policies are a concern to India because they contravene a bilateral free trade agreement, the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry said on Wednesday (April 5), but a review of the pact is unaffected and is going ahead. 

The ministry was responding to a query by TODAY after the Indian media reported this week that New Delhi has placed on hold the review of its Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with 

Quoting unnamed sources, The Times of India (TOI) and Hindustan Times had reported that this came about because of the restrictions placed by Singapore on visas for Indian IT professionals to work in the city-state.

“India has not put the review of the India-Singapore CECA on hold; the agreement continues in force,” the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry said in an email statement.

“The movement of natural persons is explicitly provided for in the agreement. Recent policy measures by Singapore that do not respect this provision are a cause of concern and are being discussed with the government of Singapore.” 

Pressed on whether the “cause of concern” refers to restrictions on visas for Indian IT professionals to work in Singapore as reported by the Indian media, the ministry refused to comment.

The Singapore-India CECA is a bilateral free trade agreement concluded in 2005 that covers such areas as tariff concessions and the facilitation of movement of professionals. 

Both sides have been in discussions over the past six years on an expansion of the scope of the agreement. 

In CECA’s clauses on movement of natural persons, business visitors, short-term service suppliers, professionals as well as employees transferred within companies can gain temporary entry into both countries.

The TOI report had claimed that Singapore was insisting on an “economic needs test” (ENT), which requires compliance with various economic criteria, to restrict access to Indian IT professionals. 

“They are doing it despite the CECA clearly stating that there will be no ENT or quotas on agreed services. This is a violation of the agreement,” TOI quoted an unidentified Indian official as saying.

Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) had said on Tuesday that it has not been informed by the Indian government that the CECA has been put on hold.

“We remain committed to work with India to conclude the second CECA review,” said a MTI spokesman.

Analyst do not expect the CECA issue to affect ties between the two countries. 

“Given that overall bilateral cooperation is going well, Modi will find a way to untie this knot, and the CECA episode should not significantly derail the progress of Singapore-India ties,” said Associate Professor Alan Chong of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, referring to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.