Taipei Times: How have recent moves by US companies to shift business operations from Taiwan to China affected US-Taiwan Business Council membership?
Hammond-Chambers: There has been discussion about the decline in the number of US businesses in Taiwan, and the fact that we were getting a migration of businesses over to the mainland, and a change in focus. That has made it tougher for international organizations like the US-Taiwan Business Council, like the American Chamber of Commerce, to maintain strong client retention, because businesses were changing their focus.
Of the 1,000-plus international businesses that are in Taiwan, we don't have more than 15 percent to 17 percent of that. So, our ability to maintain growth is pretty good.
For other organizations with a much larger piece of that pie, it's tougher to maintain high retention levels, simply because businesses are leaving Taiwan. But our businesses maintained, through this business downturn anyway, growth, albeit slow.
TT: Have there been any changes in the composition of your membership, and the composition of the type of businesses you work with?
Hammond-Chambers: Indeed. Our organization deals in broad sector areas. We receive a good amount of attention for defense and security work, mostly as a function of the fact that that specific area is one that receives the most attention in policy circles, and tends to find its way in newspapers more.
But this represents about a fifth of our member base. We are very strong in technology, were strong in financial services.
Infrastructure and transportation are also strong areas for us. Telecom is another important area for us. So, I am happy with how diverse a member client base we have at the moment.
TT: Do you think that in view of what you just said about the movement of businesses to China that that's going to mean a diminution of your role or problems for you?
Hammond-Chambers: That's a very good question. It depends on how aggressive the organization is in continuing to position itself ahead of the curve.
But there's no doubt, for example, over the past five to 10 years, that infrastructure opportunities are less real than they were, so companies like Bechtel and others, although they still have interests in Taiwan, are less interested in Taiwan than they were in the past.
But if you take the technology sector, we still continue to see very strong growth, and very strong interest in the role that Taiwan plays in the global technology community, and because of that as an organization if we continue to play an active role in the technology sector, we can continue to see good growth, we can continue to see an important role for us in the future of the bilateral trade relationship between the US and Taiwan, and even the trilateral relationship between the United States, Taiwan and China, which is very much the future of this economic triumvirate.
TT: Getting back to the defense issues, even though your defense membership is 20 percent of your total membership, certainly they play a greater role than some of the other members do, in view of the importance of US arms sales to Taiwan. What are they doing in terms of efforts to improve military relations between the United States and Taiwan?
Hammond-Chambers: Just as a point of clarification, it only appears that they exert more influence because this specific sector receives more attention. All of our member sectors are incredibly active. It's just that other issues are not as interesting, possibly, to talk about or to get the sort of profile that a defense meetings in San Antonio may or defense meetings in St. Petersburg may.