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  • SBF’s Response to Media Queries Relating to the Parliamentary Debate on the Ministerial Statements on Free Trade Agreements and Foreign Manpower

SBF’s Response to Media Queries Relating to the Parliamentary Debate on the Ministerial Statements on Free Trade Agreements and Foreign Manpower

To be attributed to Mr Lam Yi Young, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Business Federation

Tuesday, 6 July 2021 [Singapore]
– The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) welcomes the Ministerial Statements made by Minister for Health Mr Ong Ye Kung and Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng on Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Foreign Manpower in Parliament today. The Ministerial Statements provided useful clarifications on the FTA provisions pertaining to manpower and on the Government’s policy stance on foreign manpower. These clarifications are appreciated by businesses.

Businesses value Singapore’s extensive network of FTAs, which are critical in facilitating trade and business growth. Foreign manpower is an integral part of our workforce and the vast majority of businesses are committed to recruiting fairly based on merit and to strengthening the Singapore core.

“Trade is Singapore’s lifeline, and it is imperative that we remain open and connected to the world.”

We must not forget the reality that Singapore is a small country with a limited domestic  market. Singapore’s total trade in goods and services is three times our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Trading with the rest of the world has been and continues to be the force behind the size and growth of Singapore’s economy, and directly contributes to the high standard of living that Singaporeans enjoy. It is imperative that Singapore remains open and connected to the world and continues to be a champion for free trade.

“Having access to talent is crucial to the success of Singapore businesses, especially as they become more international.”

We must also not forget the reality that the size of the Singaporean workforce is limited and that our workforce is aging. We do not have enough Singaporeans to meet the needs of our economy and businesses here. Foreign manpower helps to fill this gap and augment our Singapore core as part of Team Singapore. Having access to sufficient manpower and talent is crucial to the success of Singapore businesses. We need a strong Team Singapore to support the growth of our economy and for businesses to be able to create and secure good jobs for Singaporeans. Ultimately, it is Singapore and Singaporeans that benefits.

“Foreign manpower augment and strengthen our Singapore core, and this ultimately benefits Singapore and Singaporeans.”

Foreign manpower augment and strengthen our Singapore core in various ways. First, they help fill jobs that are not attractive to Singaporeans. These include jobs in essential services such as waste management, healthcare, and transport. Not having sufficient foreign manpower will result in a degradation of essential services and disruptions to the quality of service enjoyed by Singaporeans. These also include rank and file jobs in manufacturing, construction, and other sectors. Not having sufficient foreign manpower will mean loss of the associated PMET jobs held by Singaporeans.

Second, foreign manpower helps us to bridge critical skills gaps in high skills areas like digital technology, advanced manufacturing, and cutting-edge research. Without such foreign manpower, investments in these areas will not come to and will not remain in Singapore, resulting in the loss of jobs for Singaporeans from these investments. Singapore companies will also not be able to compete effectively in these sectors. Such foreign manpower work together with their Singaporean counterparts towards the success of businesses here and help to develop the capabilities of the Singapore core.

Third, the posting of foreign manpower in and out of Singapore is an essential part of the smooth operations of multinational companies (MNCs) using Singapore as their regional or global hub. Such employees are rotated around their different offices and bring with them niche skills and experiences that Singaporeans can learn and benefit from. For MNCs, it is important that Singapore remains open to international talent and provides a conducive work environment where these individuals can work and collaborate with the local workforce.

“The vast majority of businesses are committed to fair hiring and employment practices, and to developing a strong Singapore core.”

As the Ministers said in Parliament, the key is to ensure that all employers practice fair hiring and adopt fair employment practices. The vast majority of businesses already do so and are committed to developing a strong Singapore core. In January this year, 29 trade associations and chambers (TACs) representing a wide spectrum of Singapore’s economy issued a joint statement underling the business community’s commitment to fair hiring and employment practices. Collectively, the TACs affirmed their belief that such practices will enhance businesses’ ability to attract a wider talent pool and help retain Singapore’s status as the preferred business hub.

Our vision for Singapore’s workforce is one where diversity is celebrated and individuals are respected, trained, and developed on an equal opportunity basis. Even as businesses remain pro-Singaporean and consider Singaporeans first for their hiring needs, we cannot afford to be anti-foreigner or to artificially limit jobs to Singaporeans only. If businesses are not able to meet their skills and manpower needs here, they will shift their operations out of Singapore, and this will in turn lead to loss of job opportunities for Singaporeans.

“Free Trade Agreements are important for Singapore businesses, and many have benefitted from them.” 

Singapore’s network of 26 FTAs has helped our businesses expand into overseas markets and businesses are appreciative of this. FTAs provide competitive advantages, such as preferential market access and lower barriers of entry for goods and services, giving our businesses room to grow beyond the constraints of our small domestic market. As the global economy evolves and new opportunities emerge in areas such as the digital economy and sustainability, businesses also look forward to leveraging our FTAs to gain inroads into these new opportunities.

Singapore’s network of 26 FTAs has helped our businesses expand into overseas markets and businesses are appreciative of this. FTAs provide competitive advantages, such as preferential market access and lower barriers of entry for goods and services, giving our businesses room to grow beyond the constraints of our small domestic market. As the global economy evolves and new opportunities emerge in areas such as the digital economy and sustainability, businesses also look forward to leveraging our FTAs to gain inroads into these new opportunities.

As our businesses look forward to riding the waves of a post-pandemic recovery, they will require all the resources and manpower necessary to help them seize new opportunities. We must stand in solidarity and work together to strengthen our Singapore companies and our Singapore core of workers, and deepen partnerships between businesses here so that we can emerge stronger from the pandemic and enable a better life for Singaporeans.

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