The second British minister to visit Taiwan in less than a month arrived in town Tuesday evening to press government officials on contracts for which UK companies are bidding.
"We are very keen to promote good business relationships between the UK and Taiwan and there are particular projects at the moment where we feel British companies have put in strong bids and we want to support those bids," Alan Johnson, minister of state at the UK's Department of Trade and Industry, told the Taipei Times yesterday.
Johnson confirmed that the companies include British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell Group, which are both bidding for a contract to supply 1.7 million tonnes a year of natural gas to state utility Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電) starting in 2008.
The project is worth ?500 million (US$787.6 million) over the next year and a further ?12 billion over 25 years.
He is also lobbying for Rolls Royce which, together with Airbus, is trying to fight off US-based Boeing in a contract to supply new planes to China Airlines.
Johnson, on a one-day trip to Taipei, met with Minister for Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu (林義夫), Minister for Transport and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) and Vice Premier Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) yesterday.
His schedule also included a meeting with the chairman of the Evergreen Group (長榮集團), Chang Yung-fa (張榮發), who is planning to expand his investments in the UK, Johnson said.
Evergreen set up the shipping company Hatsu Marine Ltd in the UK in January last year to circumvent a block on direct cross-strait shipping.
As of June last year, Hatsu was granted seven shipping routes between the US and China by the US Federal Maritime Commission. By the beginning of April, the company added a seventh vessel to its fleet in the UK.
Meanwhile, fears over severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) did not deter the minister from coming.
"This trip was too important for SARS to interfere," Johnson said.
To avoid a 10-day quarantine on travelers from severely affected SARS areas such as Hong Kong and China, Johnson changed his flight at the last minute to transit through Bangkok and not Hong Kong.
Johnson's visit comes after Minister for Small Business Nigel Griffiths met with the same government officials in April.
A source at the Ministry of Economic Affairs played down the political significance of the two visits.
Last year trade between the UK and Taiwan topped US$4.26 billion, including US$2.91 billion in exports from Taiwan and US$1.35 billion in imports from the UK, according to Ministry of Economic Affairs figures.