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


Wu: We used to have a very active construction committee. I believe it held 15 to 20 major companies, but that committee became dormant as a lot of companies left Taiwan. That committee is really non-existent now.

TT: There are two major sticking points between you and the Taiwanese government. One is pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Can you tell us what your issues of concern are and what improvement -- or lack of it -- you have seen recently?

Wu: There are a number of regulatory issues here that have been on our agenda for a long time but where we really haven't seen any improvement, such as the lengthy process time before new products can get approval in this market, and also the unreasonably low prices granted by the National Health Insurance reimbursement scheme.

We're hoping that through our continuing communication we can explain the danger and the risks citizens are taking here as they don't have access to the newest and best quality medical devices, or counterfeit drugs that are endangering their health and even their lives. If they truly understand the consequences then I think reform, or new systems, or revision has to take place.

One more concern for our member companies is that there is no adequate protection for confidential information. When our members submit products for federal approval, they also have to submit the supporting data. Quite often they found those materials end up in the hands of their domestic competitors here. Firstly, this is a trade secret issue, and secondly some of these drugs have not been through the final testing procedure in their testing countries.

TT: You mentioned already that American construction companies that used to be in the chamber are now shying away from Taiwan due to unfair competition. The chamber's membership has dropped recently. What are the main reasons for this and what are your plans to increase membership this year?

Wu: We saw some drop in our membership. By category, we lost more in individual members and young professionals. Young professionals especially are moving to Shanghai as this is where business opportunities seem to be concentrated now.

If we made travel between the two cities less costly and more time-saving, I'm pretty sure it would stop some expatriates or staff members moving to Shanghai. A lot of people have indicated that life quality is better in Taiwan, but because of practical reasons they can't afford to keep on traveling a whole day to Shanghai when it really only takes 90 minutes flying time.

At the moment we have 850 members, but paying companies are around 500. It used to be a little more than 1,000, about 1,100 actually. But for 2004, we are very optimistic. We think it will be the best year for a long time.

After the [Taiwan presidential] election everyone can go back to paying more attention to economic growth. More growth will attract more American businesses to the region.

TT: Are there any sectors that will see more new members than others? Say technology for example?

Wu: Yes, the IT industry, for sure, but right now those interested in financial services are our biggest group -- also biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. I really think Taiwan still has a lot to offer.

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