While there was no consensus during this week’s Parliament sitting on issues such as minimum wage levels and new approaches to discussing race-related policies, one thing that both sides of the political fence could agree on was this: Singapore must remain open for business, but more effort must be made to shore up the Singaporean core in the workforce. Public sentiment on this issue, if not carefully managed, could easily turn nativist and xenophobic. Already, many countries are reassessing the benefits of welcoming foreign talent and are turning inwards amid domestic pressure to protect businesses and workers.
Closer to home, free trade pacts like the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement had become a lightning rod for critics, who say it opened the floodgates here for Indian nationals. But a city-state without a natural hinterland must create for itself a man-made competitive advantage. This is where the network effect of free trade pacts comes in. The more pacts Singapore has, the more it can attract investors who wish to tap them to expand into regional markets, and the more jobs it can create. Instead of closing itself off to foreigners, a more sustainable strategy is to boost Singaporeans’ skills and ensure they have a level playing field in the job market, both in the letter and spirit of the law.