Lawmakers yesterday urged both the government and the private sector to forge closer ties with Vietnam, and use the Southeast Asian country as a gateway to the ASEAN Plus Three bloc and prevent Taiwan from being economically marginalized.
"Taiwan should diversify into other countries before cross-strait relations become normalized," People First Party Legislator Christina Liu (劉憶如) said in a media briefing yesterday about her visit to Vietnam last week.
The delegation comprised seven legislators and business representatives from over 20 local companies. They met with high-ranking Vietnamese officials including the head minister governing Taiwan affairs and investment.
As the largest foreign investor in Vietnam, Taiwan could likely bypass China's blockade and penetrate ASEAN markets by gaining the support of the Vietnamese government, Liu said.
In dollar terms, Taiwanese investment in Vietnam amounts to US$1.25 billion since 1952, according to the Investment Commission's statistics.
Taiwan was the first foreign direct investor to bring capital and know-how to Vietnam, even while the country was being wrecked by the drawn-out war with the US, Liu said.
This made Vietnam much friendlier to Taiwanese than to other foreign investors, she said, citing comments from Vietnamese officials.
As Vietnam is likely to enter the WTO by the end of this year, Taiwan should work towards signing a bilateral free trade agreement, Liu suggested.
Most of the participants in the delegation were from financial institutions, including Polaris Financial Group's chairman Wayne Pai (白文正) and Fubon Financial Holding Co's (富邦金控) president of corporate and investment Jerry Harn (韓蔚廷).
Taiwanese banks have set up 14 combined outlets and they remain profitable by serving Vietnam-based Taiwanese firms, Liu said, citing an average bad loan ratio of around 1 percent.
Some of the Taiwanese banks would qualify to do business in the local currency within five years and would be well-positioned to serve other foreign companies investing in Vietnam in the future, she said.
Despite the advantages of fast economic growth, a developing infrastructure, low labor costs and a bilateral investment protection agreement, Vietnam's less than ideal manpower quality and corruption were still major concerns, lawmakers said.