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Mon, Mar 04, 2002 - Page 18 News List

Taiwan faces new hurdles as it celebrates WTO entry

Guy Wittich, who took up the position last month of chief executive officer of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT)spoke with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Richard Dobson on the problems foreign businesses face in Taiwan, the opportunities WTO offers and the barriers that the government needs to address

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Guy Wittich, chief executive officer of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei, talks about issues facing foreigners when they invest or work in Taiwan. He says that Taiwan has improved its treatment of foreigners tremendously over the past 15 years but the country still needs to ensure that its laws follow the spirit of the WTO.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: Government efficiency had long been an issue of concern for foreign companies with operations in Taiwan particularly in regard to work visa applications and staving off serious impediments to business like power and water shortages at major industrial parks.

How important is it for foreign companies that government efficiency is improved?

Guy Wittich: What the government could do more about is cooperation between the local and central governments. The problems faced by foreign companies may not necessarily be due to government policy, which was likely in the right direction but was struck down by local politics and local implementation and interpretation. Local government has not really motivated foreign investment and it would be in the interest of European companies to see a very close cooperation between the local and central governments.

Also there is not enough cooperation between ministries, departments and different agencies. What ever economic policy you want to implement you need the full cooperation of all the different departments. You have to make sure whatever you put into law is followed to the letter. It's very important for foreign companies in Taiwan as it creates stability and a certain sense of security for foreign investors here if they know that on specific issues the legal framework will protect them and make sure they can operate.

TT: What are your thoughts on the appointment of the selection of former China Airlines (華航) chief Christine Tsung (宗才怡) as Minister of Economic Affairs and the new Cabinet?

Wittich: We'd like the person to be sensitive to the issues concerning foreign companies and we have a lot of trust in Tsung. It will certainly help being a person who has come from industry.

I think it will be an interesting year for companies in Taiwan as we have now come out of the worst of the economic recession. I think there are a lot of questions about what the government will do to make the economic recovery happen.

We haven't seen yet a very clear concrete strategy on how the government will further develop the economy here and attract foreign investment. The Cabinet is new and it's reasonable to give the government some time but I think the government should not wait too long.

TT: In the wake of Taiwan's WTO entry, the ECCT is setting up a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the trade body's rules and agreements. How will this system operate and how will it contribute to resolving implementation problems?

Wittich: The purpose of it is to closely monitor the actual adherence to the WTO agreements that have been signed. We've done a McKinsey& Co-ECCT study that identified 20 industry sectors that will be mostly affected by WTO.

We have made a 80 to 90 page monitoring template that monitors all the different industries. The 20 industries we have identified will be covered here.

We have appointed Baker and McKenzie which will set up a project team of a number of senior lawyers to do the execution of this monitoring. Basically the format is a monthly report that will identify hot areas. We're not going to make it a long story because if you give them a 90-page document nobody will read it. We have to make a selection of the most urgent and critical issues.

We will also have a quarterly report. In the report we have also covered other regulatory barriers that are not directly related to market access agreement which we will be defining together with our law firm but also with our committees. We will have involvement from the trade office as well and get their input to identify what other barriers we're going to monitor. All those grey areas.

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