Major Milestone: 60th Anniversary

Monday, December 19, 2011

The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei marked a major milestone in 2011 when it commemorated the passage of 60 years since its founding – a particularly significant span of time on the Chinese calendar. Although celebratory events were held throughout the year under the slogan of “60 Years of Partnership,” the most festive occasion was a gala reception on September 14 at the Taipei Guest House, the historic building in downtown Taipei that was the official residence of the Japanese Governor-General during colonial times.

Co-hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China, the event drew nearly 400 AmCham members and guests, including high-level government officials. In his congratulatory remarks, President Ma Ying-jeou thanked the Chamber for its support to Taiwan over the years, especially its role in 1979 in shaping the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress after the break in formal diplomatic ties between the United States and Taiwan.

A speech by Foreign Minister Timothy Yang emphasized the important part AmCham has played in Taiwan's national development. He noted that in the early years of Taiwan's economic development, AmCham's member companies were a “source of precious capital and technology, as well as training and job opportunities.” Minister Yang added that “in its annual White Paper, AmCham has constantly provided many valuable suggestions for enhancing Taiwan's global competitiveness.”

Also in attendance were visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Suresh Kumar, Secretary General of Taiwan's National Security Council Victor Hu, four Cabinet ministers, and eight former AmCham chairman now living abroad who returned specifically for the occasion. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Robert D. Hormats delivered a message by means of videotape.

Among the other Anniversary-related programs were a golf tournament in June, a special issue of Taiwan Business TOPICS magazine and slide-show presentation in September, a family-oriented bicycle ride and barbecue in October, and a month-long photo exhibition during November. The Anniversary activities added to the energy level for the year, but the Chamber's regular annual signature events were also highly successful. The Hsieh Nien Fan banquet in March, held to thank government officials and local business leaders for their cooperation during the previous year, attracted some 620 attendees. The American Ball, held jointly with the American Institute in Taiwan in November, this year took the theme of “Sixty Years of Fun!” and lived up to the event's reputation as the social highlight of the year for the expat community in Taipei.

This year's Annual General Meeting in November drew a record number of participants, as it featured separate appearances by the presidential candidates of the two major political parties – incumbent Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang and chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party. Both made presentations about their views on Taiwan's future development and answered questions from the floor.

Besides programming, 2011 was a good year for AmCham in other respects as well. Membership showed an upward trend, passing the 500 mark in the number of corporate entities. And the advocacy agenda was strengthened with the release of a 2011 Business Climate Survey, the first such poll of member companies since 2002. Although most respondents were quite bullish about Taiwan's economic prospects for the next few years, the survey identified concerns among multinational companies as to whether Taiwan will have sufficient electrical power and water supplies, as well as adequate quantity and quality of managerial and technical talent, to meet needs over the coming decade.

Those themes were later also reflected in the 2011 Taiwan White Paper, and were raised in meetings that AmCham held with various government officials, including Premier Wu Den-yih, Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, National Security Council Secretary General Victor Hu, and Minister Christina Liu of the Council for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As usual, an AmCham delegation spent a week in Washington, D.C. meeting with leading executive-branch agencies (such as the Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative), members of Congress and their staffs, influential think tanks and scholars, and other organizations involved in following U.S.-Taiwan relations. This year's “Doorknock” mission took place in the first week of October and was led by AmCham Chairman Bill Wiseman.

As a result of legislation introduced in the House of Representatives for a Taiwan Policy Act (TPA), ongoing debate over U.S. policy on the sale of F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan, and the upcoming presidential election in Taiwan, the 2011 AmCham Taipei “Doorknock” delegation to Washington D.C. found that Taiwan was receiving far more attention in the U.S. capital than had been the case for many years. The group sought to underscore Taiwan's importance by stressing its strides in democratic development, status as the ninth largest trading partner of the United States, and close linkage with U.S. companies in the technology supply chain.

But at the same time, the Doorknock team was struck by the depth of displeasure among many U.S. government officials and some leading members of Congress regarding Taiwan's continuing restrictions on the import of U.S. beef. AmCham is concerned that until the beef problem is resolved, the U.S. side appears unwilling to conduct discussions of economic issues under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). Those talks, normally held annually, now have not been convened in well over four years.

“Both Taiwan and the United States appear to have been so busy focusing on China lately that they haven't been devoting enough attention to their relations with one another,” says AmCham President Andrea Wu. “That's something that we hope will change in 2012. Hopefully both sides will realize that more effort is needed to restore greater balance in their external relations.” ■

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