Being grateful but not complacent

I recently attended a dinner party with former AmCham Taipei members who were visiting Taiwan after moving away years ago. They reminisced about how much they loved living here and how much they miss the island. It was obvious that their time spent here ranked high among the happiest periods of their lives – professionally and personally. There was talk about retiring in Taiwan.

Later in the evening, I found myself chatting with another friend who, like me, still lives here. She was also struck by the deep affinity our dinner guests from abroad still have for Taiwan. She turned to me and said half-jokingly, “Why do they like this place so much?”

We both laughed for a few seconds before reaffirming our deep belief that Taiwan has a lot going for it. We are impressed by all that this country has achieved against great odds. We appreciate the potential for more success. But at the same time, we refuse to be complacent.

My friend has been involved in writing AmCham’s annual White Paper – a process that is in high gear now – and is acutely aware of all the issues that are holding Taiwan back. Such efforts to drive change here can often lead to frustration, doubt, and pessimism.

When I’m suffering a crisis of faith in Taiwan, I think about reports like the one recently released by Freedom House, the New York-based watchdog organization that promotes freedom and democracy. It said in its annual Freedom in the World 2019 study that Taiwan scored a 93 out of 100 for freedom. That’s better than the U.S., which got an 86. Japan, at 96, was the only country in Asia that scored higher.

Another recent affirmation of Taiwan’s success comes from The Heritage Foundation. The Washington-based think tank’s 2019 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Taiwan No. 10 in the world – two spots higher than the U.S. The country gets high marks for its open-market policies and sound legal framework that protects property rights and upholds the rule of law.

Heritage leaders shared their report a few weeks ago at an event that I attended at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research in Taipei. As I listened to them going over the findings, I wondered if they would have been so bullish on Taiwan if they had a chance to sit in on the meetings of AmCham’s industry groups that are working on our next White Paper, to be released in June.

It’s during these White Paper meetings that our members play the vital role of being believers in Taiwan who refuse to be complacent. It’s when our 24 industry committees – which represent everything from medical devices, cosmetics, and energy to insurance, banking, and technology –discuss whether they are solving their big issues.

Last year, we had a record number of issues solved. So far this year, things aren’t looking as good. Many of the committees are feeling some serious frustration because of a lack of progress.

Some members complain that their companies are launching new products in Hong Kong and Singapore rather than Taiwan because the approval process here is so onerous.

Worries still persist that Taiwan won’t properly implement the patent linkage law passed in late 2017. The law was designed to protect the intellectual property rights of pharmaceuticals. Failure to properly implement the law could contribute to the departure of major drug companies that could be key drivers of innovation for Taiwan’s biotech industry. That would be a disaster.

A longstanding dispute over imported beef and pork from the U.S. continues to block progress toward starting talks with Washington about a free trade agreement. Such a deal with Taiwan’s most important ally is vital in a world where bilateral agreements are becoming increasingly important. Taiwan risks becoming severely isolated.

We still have a few months to make progress on these issues and several others. Many believe the deadline for progress falls in May, just before campaigning for the presidential election heats up and all attention gets shifted to the race.

I’m grateful that the Taiwanese can pick their own leaders. But now is not the time to feel complacent.