Common Denominator for D.C. and Taipei: Be Bold

Mid-year 2021 finds the U.S. and Taiwan light years from one another…and closer than ever. I can explain. The U.S. boasts a resurgent economy: its schools, offices, shops, and airports all back in vigorous operation. Nearly half the population has been vaccinated – and fewer than 50% are masking. There may be nothing approaching political consensus on any topic, yet there is a palpable sense that the country will not – and should not – fully return to pre-2020 lifestyles.

In Taiwan the feeling is that the world has just been flipped on its head. People are rightfully concerned about securing vaccines and have just spent a month in partial “clamp-down” aimed at subduing the first serious pandemic breakout after a year of comfortable routines and generally buoyant times. The initial shock of vulnerability in a re-connecting world has subsided, and residents are responding in a disciplined and unified fashion to new challenges.

At the same time, America and Taiwan are also closer than ever, in recognition that respective essential interests can be furthered by tightening the bilateral relationship, especially in its economic dimension. Bold, prompt action from both sides is needed for the two parties to come together to gain the benefits of free trade and economic integration.

The tendency toward big moves appears clearer from Washington, where the Biden administration is poised to commit trillions of dollars to COVID relief, family and infrastructure initiatives, and ongoing spending in a manner that will re-orient the way the public and private sectors relate. Equally impressive has been continuity with the Trump team regarding conclusions on the nature and extent of the systemic challenge from China, which has shaped a Biden Asia-policy focus on Taiwan as a critical Indo-Pacific actor.

While Taiwan has been charting a seemingly steadier course than the U.S. over recent years, the Tsai administration has shown that it too is ready to act decisively. In recent weeks the Taiwan government has instituted a comprehensive and disciplined set of public health and stay-at-home measures and looked to greenlight additional, privately funded vaccine import channels, while the legislature has doubled the cap on COVID relief spending. Beyond the pandemic, and with relevance to one of our top items within the Messages to Washington section of this issue, the Tsai Administration took a courageous step in removing a longstanding point of contention over agricultural trade with the U.S. by addressing import restrictions dubiously framed as food safety requirements.

Into this ferment, the 1,000-plus members of AmCham Taiwan put forward in the following pages their best recommendations to officials in Taipei and Washington. Although the Chamber has been recast from AmCham Taipei to AmCham Taiwan this year – its 70th anniversary – our mission is unchanged: to further improve Taiwan’s excellent business environment and foster closer connection between the two economies.

We are grateful to AmCham’s members and staff for their hard work producing this document – again under challenging conditions. The fact that a record 13 issues from last year’s White Paper were resolved indicates that – far from coasting on a strong macroeconomic performance in 2020 and robust demand for its tech exports – the administration is doubling down to raise government efficiency and spur industrial development in new directions. The 2021 edition repeats some themes from last year – energy supply and regulatory practice, for example – while emphasizing digitalization.

Perhaps the most important addition this year is our larger vision: a Taiwan Commercial Initiative for the two governments to drive together, supported by enthusiastic private sectors on both sides. The ideas broached in the Initiative have bubbled up over the years, but what was missing in the past was the political energy in both capitals needed to spearhead an integrated approach to economic liberalization in the service of workers, companies, and the environment.

An ambitious agenda is not reducible to a formula. But if a bold, creative vision for integration by the two governments is the common denominator, then coordinated, top-down leadership is the numerator. On the Taipei side, we hope our colleagues at the National Development Council (NDC) might lead teams from the appropriate ministries and agencies to identify – and start to close – gaps separating Taiwan from accession to high-standard trade agreements such as the CPTPP. On the Washington side, we would like to see a comprehensive NDC-chaired interagency discussion of the U.S.-Taiwan economic relationship. AmCham Taiwan members and our private-sector partners will be supporting these bilateral initiatives all the way. 

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