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From: Kevin Tan
Subject: E Consultation - Week One Questions
Sent: Apr 27th, 2009 - 14:07:34

  Hey, I'm Kevin from Singapore. We've a slightly
different side of the story to tell - and I'd like to do so with regard to
both questions one and three.

i) Strictly speaking, we've absolutely nothing to do with any of the four of
this week's areas of interest. Singapore's a highly urban city state, with
an economy focused entirely on service and manufacturing. That is to say, we
have no rural areas to develop, no agriculture to protect, and, as an
incredibly humid tropical country, drought is not really the most pressing
of our problems.

Yet, our neighbours face many of these issues, and as we are major importers
of their timber, water, agricultural produce, and other raw materials, we
are in effect consuming their resources and are indirectly contributing to
their problems. Put another way, as we are entirely dependent on them for
our most basic needs, our sustainable development too is entirely dependent
on theirs. Hence the relevance to the topics we are meant to discuss, in
spirit if not in letter.

So, moving on, how exactly do we affect their development, and ours in turn?


First, we have stymied rural growth by aiding the exploitation of our
neighbours natural resources. For example, huge swathes of forests in our
neighbouring countries have disappeared due to illegal logging. This hampers
local agriculture by robbing locals of their traditional farmland; but more
than that, as the proceeds from illegal logging are often funnelled into the
pockets of the ultra rich or foreign multinationals, none of it is channeled
into the development of the rural community to whom the natural resources
should belong. We have been accomplices to this crime. Singapore is
described as "a physical and financial hub in the regions illegal timber
trade" (
http://www.illegal-logging.info/item_single.php?item=news&item_id=1367&approach_id=1);
not only because of the sheer quantity of timber we import, but because our
lax regulation regarding their legality perpetuates the trade.

We have directly caused environmental damage as well. A case in point would
be Singapore's reclamation projects, which narrow the Straits of Johore and
have prompted complaints by local fishermen of a reduced catch. Even if we
were to dismiss these as cynical bids for compensation, the import of sand
for this purpose in itself takes a heavy toll abroad . Indonesia, for
example, has halted sand exports twice due to allegations of marine
ecological damage by observers; all of which has had severe implications for
the tens of thousands of those whose livelihoods have depended on the sea
for generations. Furthermore, as with the trade in timber, our regulatory
suppleness about where the sand comes from has led to widespread illegal
mining, which again robs the locals while providing absolutely no capital
deepening or long term development in exchange. (for a brief, if somewhat
outdated history on the issue,
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/EG31Ae01.html)

Third, our trade patterns with our neighbours have locked them into a cycle
of dependence. The textbook case would concern agriculture, and this is a
problem here too - the openness of Singapore's economy means that our
neighbours' crops are fully exposed to the cutthroat prices of the global
market, leading to minimal profit and little money for rural development,
thus perpetuating the poverty cycle. Nevertheless, as the economies of our
neighbouring countries have been shifting away from agriculture, dependence
has grown to cover more than this. For instance, Singapore is one of the
largest petrochemical refining centres in the world; yet it has no
petrochemical reserves whatsoever. The raw resources are imported from
neighbouring countries - most notably Malaysia - with minimal foreign direct
investment, meaning that no long term technology transfer or skill training
takes place. As part of this crude oil comes from oil palm plantations in
rural areas, members of rural communities are affected directly and trapped
with little prospect for social advancement.

All this can be attributed to two things: one a lack of rural empowerment
abroad, resulting in a lack of domestic political will to halt these
instances of exploitation, and two, an apathy on Singapore's part about the
long term development of its neighbours. There's very little we in Singapore
can do about the former. Thankfully, this brings us to

iii)

The key to generating sympathy for these issues in the countries around
Singapore will be the young. Take this, for example:
http://www.villagexchange.org/, a local T-shirt selling website by youth
promoting fair trade and other developmental issues.

Not only is it symptomatic of a greater awareness of the crises around us,
in its advocacy for fair trade it is also directly turning the political
spotlight on the issue. This highlights the difference between engaging
youth and the alternative - no one else can play their dual role of consumer
and activist. If some form of labelling were to be adopted to identify the
origins of products and hence encourage fair trade, it will be the youth who
will be most enthused and who will bring the most consumer pressure to bear.
If some form of legislation were raised requiring more stringent checks on
imports to ensure that they are legal, it will be from the youth that it
will draw its support. These things cost money, and naturally, no sane
person would impose present costs to reap future benefits - unless they
think they're going to stick around long enough for the harvest! That, even
if we were to discount idealism, would be where the youth come in.


Thanks for your time, and see you soon!

Kevin Tan



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