An AmCham To-Do List for 2022

Summertime woes – drought, electrical grid failure, unavailability of vaccines, even a lull in K-entertainment (until Squid Game graced our streaming devices, that is) – are by this month mere memories. However, a few tough problems remain. Taiwan and AmCham, specifically, are on the case. I note two issues here: business travel and climate action. I save two more – supply chain vulnerability and geoeconomics – for next month. Thank goodness for holidays between such merry topics.

The reasons for Taiwan’s lagging border re-opening are familiar: delayed arrival of vaccines leaving only 55% of the populace fully inoculated, scant natural immunity, low tolerance for health-related risk, and electoral politics. Nonetheless, an influx of tens of thousands returning for the Lunar New Year has forced the authorities to allow that only half of the 14-day quarantine be spent in a hotel, while stepping up testing and penalties for rule-breakers. To say this will be a grand experiment is an understatement. 

We hope that the inevitable surge in COVID-19 cases will not trigger a return of Level 3 or 4 restrictions, in pyrrhic pursuit of yet another period of “zero-COVID.” Hopefully, the majority of so-called breakthrough and other cases will be relatively mild, Taiwan’s excellent healthcare system will hold, and the island will join the “living-with-endemic-COVID” global order by summer. 

Businesses from the beleaguered travel and hospitality sectors featured in this issue are counted among AmCham’s members. We have fought for their support and welcome the relief that resumption of mass market international travel will bring. 

However, AmCham’s recent focus has been on the short- and long-term business visas that underpin FDI and Taiwan’s trade-dependent economy. Visa issuance has been halted since June 2021 and business remains hamstrung by the requirement that applications be reviewed on a sector-by-sector, case-by-case basis. Approvals are forthcoming, but the obstacles lead firms to shelve or divert business to more predictable markets. The sharp decline in FDI reported by the Investment Commission in November bears out this concerning trend.

In response, AmCham has been cooperating with the European and Japanese chambers in Taiwan. While the ECCT underscored the growth impediment of visa constraints in their recent White Paper, JCCIT joined AmCham in surveying our respective members on the costs in sales, investments, and technology exchanges forgone under a mushrooming business visa backlog. The three chambers co-signed an October letter to the CECC, which generated only a response of sympathy for losses experienced by foreign businesses, ignoring the costs to Taiwan’s economy. 

We are not opposed to thousands of students or tens of thousands of family members being welcomed to Taiwan this winter. But we feel that business travelers, who are less numerous but whose activities greatly benefit Taiwan’s economy, merit essentially automatic entry approval. A monthly visa cap would be preferrable to the current uncertainty. 

The second mega-challenge du jour is climate change, an intensely local concern in a densely populated island with limited natural resources. As the world’s 21st largest economy in terms of GDP, Taiwan’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are well above average. All calling Taiwan home share responsibility. (And, yes, I appreciate that long-haul travel is a carbon villain). 

As noted in our editorial, although not a member of the intergovernmental panel behind the recent COP26 in Glasgow, Taiwan consistently contributes know-how to solving global problems. Its capacity for cross-border technical training and youth education is exceptional. 

AmCham members are also at the fore. Our 2021 White Paper again called for fuel-mix adaptation and carbon taxes and credits. Our firms are environmental pioneers. That includes Google, which a few years ago backed a first-of-its-kind 10MW solar power installation in Tainan. Scores have committed at the corporate level to Net Zero by 2050, and the Chamber has an active SDG Committee

Semiconductors – of which Taiwan produces a few – may yet become a poster child for industrial greening. Chips are essential to electric vehicles, solar arrays, and wind turbines, but their manufacture also strains the environment by consuming huge amounts of energy and water. Mitigation is likely to be a focus of AmCham’s new Semiconductor Committee, beginning with a roundtable with the U.S. EPA, NGOs, industry, and the Taiwan authorities. Partnerships are needed to tackle big problems, as well as to fully exploit the business of renewable energy adoption and export.

Taiwan was active on the margins of the Glasgow meetings, represented by EPA-Taiwan Deputy Minister Shen Chih-hsiu, who urged cooperation between public and private sectors. I was able to join Shen, Taiwan Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association President Richard Lee, and Dr. Niven Huang, head of the Sustainability and ESG practice at KPMG, at a virtual event hosted by the Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP). I offered four ways AmCham Taiwan is committed to advancing global climate solutions, while improving Taiwan’s business climate. 

I look forward to sharing these ideas – and discovering more from you – as we continue to make a difference. But for now, let’s enjoy the holidays.