Today in Strasbourg the European Parliament voted on a new trade deal between the EU and Singapore which passed, meaning all tariffs between the two parties will be virtually removed within five years.
While Singapore is a trusted and strategic partner for the EU and it is right that we seek to deepen our relationships, as Labour MEPs we decided to abstain in this vote.
In our view, this free trade agreement (FTA) is a missed opportunity on labour rights. Usually a key means of setting the rules of the globalisation game, this FTA sets that bar too low. It contains no effective, binding commitments on workers’ rights, with Singapore failing to ratify three of the core International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions that would provide Singaporean labourers with the most basic rights.
Not only that, but even labour rights activists in Singapore are being mistreated and face tough justice fighting for rights for the most vulnerable workers.
Take the case of Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham who last month was found guilty of organising public assembly. Through the FTA, Singapore has undertaken a number of concrete commitments in relation to human rights, including the freedom of assembly. The fact that Mr Wham is likely to face prison time and have to pay a fine is a clear sign that this issue won’t be solved any time soon.
However, we understand that the Singapore FTA brings some benefits and it will prove to be a basic model for future deals with the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. When weighing the good and the bad, abstaining was the right choice.
Separately, the Parliament also voted on an investment protection agreement (IPA) providing a court system with independent judges to settle disputes between investors and states. This is even more problematic, as it will favour those who have already reaped the benefits of globalisation, by providing special access to justice for foreign investors. It attacks the fundamental principle that we are all equal before the law, no matter how rich or poor.
As we fundamentally object to any kind of privileged justice for multinationals, we voted against the Singapore IPA. It is deeply wrong to facilitate the creation of a parallel judicial system for powerful businesses, when we do nothing for those who have suffered the brunt of globalisation.
Jude Kirton-Darling MEP sits on the International Trade Committee in the European Parliament. You can watch her explanation of votes below: