Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 11 News List

AmCham gettig down to business

The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei has been representing the interests of Americans doing business here for the past 51 years. Last year saw membership numbers drop from over 1,000 to around 800. `Taipei Times' staff reporter Bill Heaney sat down with new president Andrea Wu to discuss the plans she has made to inject new vigor into the organization since her election in December

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New American Chamber of Commerce president Andrea Wu is confident that the organization can rebound from a recent fall in membership.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO

Taipei Times: Apart from the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), what are the major issues facing American businesses working in Taiwan at present and have you seen any movement on these issues recently? If not, are you optimistic about the chances for real change this year?

Andrea Wu (吳王小珍): In 2003, our White Paper addressed all of our concerns here including pharmaceuticals and medical devices -- there is also an IPR issue there -- also financial reform, government procurement, human resources regulation and also "black gold" [corruption]. For financial reform, we saw good improvements in that area. Non-performing loans have been brought down essentially and also the preparation for reforming bankruptcies and the company reorganization law is [ongoing]. There have also been major corruption cases and action taken against corporate black gold, so we do see a lot of movement in this area.

Another area is the qualified foreign institutional investor (QFII) regulation that has been dismantled. That regulation really discriminated against foreigners by requiring a lot of onerous paperwork and it also limited the investment funds that could invest in this market, so taking away these restrictions is really helping foreign investment in this market.

And as regards human resources, such as the policy of issuing work permits, the government just revised its requirement for two years' working experience. Now it's been wavered for holders of master's degrees. It used to be only PhDs who did not have to show two years work experience [to get a work visa].

That's a great improvement. However, we see that as missing the point. If you want to attract the best and most qualified talent to work in this market, you have to accept a greater free-flow [of human resources], and accept foreign talent working here. Protecting this labor market is not actually generating more job opportunities for people in this country.

Another area is government procurement because in that area the prevailing terms and conditions of contracts are still written in such a way that international companies find they have too high a level of a liability, which is unacceptable.

We understand that Taiwan at the moment is not part of the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), but we strongly suggest that Taiwan should just abide by the same regulations and get ready so that when it becomes a full member, we don't have to change any process or any format -- things can just move along. The result of not playing by the same game rules is that a lot of qualified international construction companies building infrastructure for other countries in the region have no interest in participating in any projects in Taiwan and the citizens of Taiwan, actually, in the end cannot enjoy the same quality of infrastructure build-up that they deserve.

TT: Do you think that the unwillingness of the authorities to sign the GPA is motivated too much by political concerns?

Wu: I think their concerns are more trading concerns. They're protectionist, which we understand. We can accept different regulations, but you have to have fair competition. You can monitor performance and quality by different systems, but you cannot set up hurdles to stop people coming in at all.

TT: I believe that as a result of these hurdles you do not really have any large-scale construction companies in Amcham any more. Can you comment on that?

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