Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is currently in the US for a visit and he is calling for the ratification of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP, a secretive free trade initiative of President Barack Obama, is seen by many as a plan written by giant multinational corporations (MNCs) to further exploit labour and natural resources and fatten profit-margins.
This has led to the great income inequality that is threatening financial and social instability around the world. The world’s richest 1 percent possess the same amount of wealth as the rest of the 99 percent.
For these reasons, free trade agreements are under intense opposition by a wide segment of the global population.
In 2003, Singapore and the US signed a free trade agreement, called the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement or USSFTA, under former president George W Bush and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.
This has led to the growing income disparity in Singapore where billionaires have flocked to Singapore pushing up prices and the cost of living for locals. It has also forced open our immigration gates and caused the massive influx of foreigners into our economy. This has, in turn, depressed wages for Singaporeans.
An example of the USSFTA designed to benefit the corporate sector instead of workers is a little-known programme called the Integrated Sourcing Initiative (ISI) which allows electronics components and medical devices manufactured in Indonesia to count as Singaporean content.
In other words, the ISI allows MNCs and Government-linked companioes (GLCs) to by-pass Singaporean workers and, instead, employ cheap labour in Batam sweatshops to produce their goods. In such a set-up, how does the USSFTA benefit Singaporeans?
The overwhelming number of MNCs have also dominated our economic landscape and contributed in a major way to the dismal growth of labour productivity levels in Singapore.
In addition, the TPP will also allow big pharmaceutical companies to increase the prices they charge for drugs and limit access to cheaper generic drugs. These are clearly moves which do not benefit Singaporean patients.
It is clear that free trade agreements like the USSFTA (and the upcoming TPP) have worked to the detriment of Singapore and our people.
The SDP opposed the USSFTA then and we oppose the TPP now (see here). There is a reason why the majority of Americans also oppose the TPP: they do not benefit the people.
If PM Lee is really for Singaporean workers and not throwing them under the bus by championing the interests of MNCs, he will not agree to the TPP, much less be a cheerleader for President Barack Obama’s initiative.
Instead, he should, belatedly, focus on helping our home-grown entrepreneurs develop and become global competitors. This will help boost productivity and innovation in Singapore and drive our economy forward.