On July 24, 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation to implement the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. This agreement will be harmful to the people and environment of Singapore and the US in several regards. It also is a dangerous model for agreements currently being negotiated like the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Some key points are:
Does not protect core labor rights or environmental protections
Labor and Environmental provisions aren’t enforceable on the same terms as commercial provisions, and only one labor and environmental provision has any enforcement: that countries enforce their own labor and environmental laws. Both countries are still able to set these laws at levels below internationally recognized standards or to lower them in order to attract investment without facing any consequences. Also, the penalty for country’s failure to enforce its own laws is capped at an amount insufficient to be a deterrent.
Establishes Off-shore Sweatshop Havens
The Singapore FTA grants unreciprocal market access to goods from two Indonesian islands. Operations on these islands, however, aren’t bound by any of the other provisions of the agreement, including the provisions on labor and the environment. In doing so, the Singapore FTA established a sweatshop haven which will be harmful for workers in all three countries. Moreover, the agreement allows for additional Indonesian islands to be added, and could potentially be expanded to other countries.
Contains labor rules which are weaker than existing US-Singapore trade rules
Does not require Singapore to adopt or enforce core International Labor Organization standards. In addition, under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) the U.S. is able to scrutinize whether or not a country’s labor laws actually comply with international standards in determining market access. The US-Singapore FTA is contingent only that Singapore enforce its existing labor laws regardless of their adequacy.
Would reduce access to essential medicines
Intellectual property rules in the US-Singapore FTA greatly reduce the flexibility available under WTO rules for governments to make generic medicines available in order to address public health crises.
Opens public interest laws up to challenge by foreign corporations
Investment rules in the Singapore FTA include the right for foreign corporations to sue governments when they believe that a domestic regulation unfairly infringes on their profits. Similar rules under NAFTA have led to challenges in all three NAFTA countries against health, safety, environmental, and zoning and development laws.
Threatens sustainable development
The Singapore FTA restricts the use of capitol controls, which are an essential tool for developing countries in dealing with speculative capitol. Many developing countries have used these tools effectively in the past, and even the IMF has conceded that they can be beneficial to stable development.
Establishes a new immigration policy for Singapore which doesn’t protect workers’ rights
The Singapore agreement establishes a quota for temporary entry of professionals in addition to our existing global H1-B visa system. But unlike H1-B, it doesn’t require certification that there is a domestic need for the workers, or that those workers will be treated well. This sets up a mechanism to abuse Singaporean workers and drive down wages and working conditions in the US.
Threatens natural resources
Despite the fact that Singapore is a major transshipment point for both plant and animal endangered species, the Singapore FTA doesn’t protect against illegal transshipment of plant and animal life.
Ignores Fast Track negotiating objectives
Many of these provisions go against the negotiating objectives delineated by Congress under Fast Track including the labor and environmental provisions, and provisions on investment, and access to medicine.
Talking Points on Singapore FTA Public Citizen
Report on the U.S.-Chile and U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreements Labor Advisory Council for Trade Negotiations & Trade Policy, February 28, 2003
Comments on Proposed U.S.-Singapore Agreement Public Citizen, December 26, 2000
Articles & Statements
Labour-Singapore: Unscrupulous Agents Need to Be Weeded Out Inter Press Service, December 13, 2004
U.S.-Chile and U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreements Are Bad Policy As They Stand Letter to Members of Congress from the Citizens Trade Campaign, July 22, 2003
Letter to Congress from the United Steelworkers of America July 18, 2003
Statement by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on Chile and Singapore Trade Agreements July 16, 2003
Letter to Congress from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters July 16, 2003
Chile and Singapore Free Trade Agreements Are Wrong Models for the Environment Letter to Congress from Environmental Groups, July 9, 2003
Citizens Trade Campaign Letter to Congress on FTA with Singapore May 22, 2003
Letter on the U.S.-Chile and U.S.-Singapore Trade Agreements United Steelworkers of America, May 22, 2003
The Significance of the Singapore and Chile Free Trade Agreements Testimony by Thea M. Lee, Chief International Economis, AFL-CIO, May 8, 2003
Letter to Congress Oxfam America, May 6, 2003