In crisis, a new era of opportunity for Taiwan-Europe business relations

19 March, 2021

By H Henry Chang

Wrought by the fallout of the pandemic and a maelstrom of social vicissitudes in its wake, these past two years have seen extraordinary volatility and uncertainty worldwide. But these crises have also provided golden opportunities for Taiwan—as one of the few places where businesses and schools have been able to operate almost uninterrupted—to build upon its strengths, and to forge closer ties with its partners in the European business community, which represents by far its largest and most rapidly expanding group of foreign investors.

Across education, technology, industries, and talent, Taiwan’s goals and European expertise have become ever more aligned, providing an historic opportunity to draw us ever closer together on the basis of mutual interests and reciprocity, as well as shared values.

Over the past month, automakers including Germany’s Volkswagen have been lobbying their governments for help from Taiwan, home to the world’s largest chip foundries and a lynchpin in global supply chains. Now Europe is looking to companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) and others to restart its own semiconductor manufacturing industry, which has languished for some time.

Taiwan energy transformation
In the field of renewable energy, meanwhile, relevant expertise and experience has been flowing in a reciprocal direction, helping Taiwan to realize its aim of generating 20% of its electricity through renewable sources by 2025. Taiwan inaugurated its first offshore wind farm last year using wind turbines from Denmark and technical support from the UK and looks set to become Asia's green energy hub and the next major player in the offshore wind energy market.

In December last year, Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chi-mai established a Smart City Committee in partnership with senior executives from German conglomerate Siemens and just two weeks ago, Mayor Hou You-yi opened a smart city office for New Taipei City. Back in November, Taoyuan mayor Cheng Wen-tsan signed a memorandum of understanding with the ECCT on smart city development, sustainable development, and low-carbon manufacturing.

Smart city infrastructure(s)
As authorities at all levels across Taiwan push ahead with smart city initiatives—seeking to use information and communication technology to more efficiently manage resources, govern transparently, and improve the quality of public services—European cities provide a plethora of best practices. Cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Vienna are models for smart, sustainable development, with some of the lowest carbon footprints per capita in the world, impressive cycling and walking rates, and stringent green building standards.

Electric mobility
The same applies for electrification. Last month the Ministry of Transportation and Communications budgeted NT$8.5 billion to develop electric buses, and by 2030 the government hopes to upgrade gasoline and diesel-powered public buses across the nation to ones powered by electricity. In this effort, too, the stars of Taiwanese ambition and European expertise are aligned.

Talent and human resources
Attracting professionals and labourers to come help Taiwan achieve these goals has also never been easier. Building upon the foundations laid by its high quality of life and universal health coverage, Taiwan’s surging economy and its effective handling of the pandemic over the past year have made it an increasingly appealing destination for people around the world. The timing, for Taiwan, is fortuitous: having encountered negative population growth for the first time this year and saddled with one of the world’s lowest birth rates and most rapidly ageing populations, Taiwan’s economy currently faces shortages in both skilled and unskilled labour.

Whilst there are many pull factors that make Taiwan attractive, however, others push investors away: for example, an overly restrictive work culture and inconsistencies in immigration. Taiwan would do well to benefit from European countries’ best practices allowing employers greater flexibility to adjust regular working hours according to business needs, and to implement performance indicators beyond just the number of hours logged. This promises not only to increase efficiency but also to provide a more attractive work environment that will, in turn, draw in more investment.

Education and better living
While businesses create opportunities that draw in new talents, keeping them here falls on the shoulders of the wider living environment. The ECCT has been working with authorities to streamline the process of acquiring residency rights and expedite the issuance of Employment Gold Cards and visas to qualified foreign nationals in-country without the need to return to their home countries.

In education, Taiwan continues to strive toward its aspiration of becoming a bilingual nation by 2030. However, achieving bilingualism requires as much work outside the classroom as within it, including higher levels of exposure to English through media like film and television, learning environments that encourage active engagement, and viewing English as a vital and life-long skill rather than just a temporary hurdle at school.

Europe can offer invaluable advice and resources to meet this goal. Beyond bilingual nations such as Ireland and Malta, where English enjoys co-official status, the European community also includes countries like Norway and the Netherlands where the quality of English education has created a functionally bilingual population.

Catching up with historically English-speaking places in East Asia like Hong Kong and Singapore within a single generation is certainly ambitious; but European countries have achieved the same within a comparable time frame, and there is much that can be learned. More university exchanges can facilitate this process and create more opportunities for Taiwanese students to rise to the challenge of an immersive language environment.

In all of these areas of economic and social life, Taiwan’s goals and Europe’s expertise have never been more in-step. This critical moment in history is the time to move forward together—to build the ties that will last for generations and help both prosper. As ECCT chairperson, I look forward to seeing new business opportunities between Europe and Taiwan thrive and existing relationships reinforced in the post-pandemic world.

H Henry Chang is the Chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce and Principal at Baker McKenzie

This Op-Ed also appeared in CommonWealth Magazine

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