Lobbying capabilities are measured in large part by the degree of access achieved and the sophistication of the advocacy materials presented. The 2002 Doorknock illustrated AmCham's strengths in both areas.
by Richard Vulysteke
Each year, soon after the publication of its annual Taiwan White Paper [ital], an AmCham Taipei delegation goes to Washington, DC, to "knock on the doors" of U.S. government administration officials, members of Congress, and think tank scholars who focus on U.S.-China-Taiwan affairs.
The 2002 "Doorknock," held May 12-17 and made up of an 11-person delegation led by Richard Henson, then-president of AmCham, delivered a number of key messages concerning Taiwan's international business environment. The delegation also learned how Washington officials, pundits, and policymakers viewed Taiwan's political, economic, and security environment.
This year's participants represented various business sectors, including aerospace, chemical manufacturing, energy, construction, automobile manufacturing, transportation, information technology (IT), and law firms specializing in intellectual property rights (IPR) and patent issues.
Soon after returning to Taipei, members of the delegation met with President Chen Shui-bian to brief him on the Doorknock trip and to highlight some of the chamber's highest lobbying priorities for the coming year.
The delegation took this opportunity to congratulate the president and his government on Taiwan's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) early this year. They also expressed AmCham's appreciation for the government's continued willingness to exchange views and concerns with the chamber. In fact, prior to the Doorknock trip, AmCham had held 10 meetings with senior government officials focusing on the industry issues presented in the White Paper [Ital]. These included a luncheon briefing with Premier Yu Shyi-kun and all the Cabinet ministers with economic portfolios. The sessions helped clarify AmCham's understanding of the government's views of the Taiwan business environment.
During its meeting with President Chen, the delegation mentioned to the president that the briefings it gave in Washington (as well as the 2002 Taiwan White Paper [ital]) clearly recognized two very positive achievements by the Chen Administration: its continuing attention to financial reform and its efforts to eliminate "black-gold" politics. It was also pointed out that the White Paper [ital] encourages continuing financial reform-including revision of insolvency legislation and resolution of the non- performing loan problem-and recommends expansion of the black-gold campaign to include "white collar" crime.
Twice in the course of the 45-minute meeting, President Chen remarked that AmCham's White Paper [ital] provides "a mirror for my government." In previous meetings, and during his speeches at the 2001 and 2002 Hsieh Nien Fan dinners hosted by AmCham, the president had also commented that he reads the White Paper [ital] and takes its contents very seriously.
Each Doorknock comes after months of careful preparation by the chamber's industry- focused committees and detailed coordination by the Government Relations Committee. As in the previous eight years, this year's Doorknock launched refocused lobbying efforts with the Taiwan government and renewed coordination with AIT- Taiwan and U.S. government officials in Washington. Five of the top priorities:
This year's White Paper [ital] revealed a sense of urgency about the need for the Taiwan government to put concrete economic reform higher on its agenda, especially since it had finally gained admission to the WTO.
Significantly, after nearly a decade of lobbying in Washington for Taiwan's entry into the WTO, this year the focus shifted to critical assessments of Taiwan's early steps toward compliance with WTO accession accords. The delegation learned that the quality of Taiwan's performance in Geneva and its substantive delivery on WTO pre- accession accords in Taiwan were very much on the radar screen in Washington.
In more than a dozen meetings with US government officials and think tank scholars, the delegation found great support for Taiwan's increased international profile as an active member of WTO. There was also high expectation that vigorous participation by Taiwan in the WTO would create significant opportunities for Taiwan to grow its economy, strengthen its trade ties, and increase its international status. Taiwan's quick and effective compliance with WTO accords was seen as an excellent way for it to gain even greater respect in the United States and internationally.
Taiwan's initial steps at compliance have been viewed as slow and hesitant, and not in the spirit expected. Examples include agriculture, banking, IPR protection, and pharmaceuticals. There is rising concern in Washington that Taiwan's development of the service industry sector is falling behind its regional competitors and that this will hinder its economic strengthening.
The message was that Taiwan can't afford to deal with WTO accords by following a regulatory approach that violates the spirit of WTO. That would be counterproductive for Taiwan's image as an attractive place for foreign direct investment (FDI) and for doing business. It could also cause negative political reactions and loss of business sector support in the United States. A sense of urgency therefore exists that Taiwan build a positive record from the beginning stages of its membership.
In a related vein, the delegation was often asked about AmCham's stance on a US- Taiwan FTA (free trade agreement). AmCham's position seemed to be in tune with that of the U.S. government: an FTA is a very good idea-but at some time in the future. Taiwan first needs to build a solid record of performance in the WTO. Positive performance should help build a much more supportive constituency for an FTA both in Washington and among American businesspeople in Taiwan.
IPR was a hot topic in Washington. Clearly, Taiwan needs to take consistent, year- round steps to aggressively pursue and prosecute violators of intellectual property laws. This is a real issue for domestic and international businesses. Enforcement needs to be strengthened.
Moreover, a high-quality IPR environment is necessary for Taiwan to become an R&D center and to gain comparative advantage over regional competitors. South Korea, for instance, is seen as making much more rapid progress in IPR protection-to the extent that it could conceivably pull companies away from Taiwan. There is concern in Washington (and among AmCham members) that the government and society at large do not fully understand how seriously IPR issues tarnish Taiwan's reputation.< br>
Infrastructure development and modernization are seen as essential to Taiwan's economic strength. Unfortunately, contract terms and conditions for public works projects are not up to international standards. These shortcomings effectively prevent most foreign energy, construction, environmental, and other industries from bidding on or winning contracts.
Until this issue is addressed, Taiwan will continue to be deprived of international- standard infrastructure. For instance, dependable, high-quality energy and water are essential for business. Proper standards of sewage treatment, toxic waste disposal, and overall construction have direct impact on public safety and the quality of life. Taiwan is seen as having a second-rate infrastructure, and even that seems to be decaying. Substandard construction, no matter how recent and widespread, will not help in solving Taiwan's infrastructure woes.
As on past Doorknock trips, AmCham urged the U.S. government to regularize visits to Taiwan by Cabinet-level officials and other senior government officers. The Doorknock delegation extended to U.S. officials AmCham's appreciation for the increased number of visits already seen during the Bush Administration.
One concern came up repeatedly, however: If Taiwan is to continue receiving a flow of high-level visitors, the Taiwan government needs to strengthen the agendas of such visits. Moreover, U.S. officials are closely monitoring what progress Taiwan is making in WTO compliance, liberalization of the economy, and resolution of the sorts of issues found in AmCham's White Paper [ital]. The degree of success may well have an impact on the number of future visits.
The Doorknock delegates concluded their meeting with President Chen by assuring him of AmCham's eagerness to work with the government to help build a strong economy and ensure maintenance of its competitive edge and sustainable growth. They also reiterated that AmCham's priority issues were raised with the expectation that they are achievable-and that AmCham stands ready to support the government's efforts make these urgent, necessary improvements. That commitment was wholly consistent with AmCham's mission of encouraging the Taiwan government "to adopt and implement the highest possible international business standards in the areas of legislation, regulations, and enforcement." That commitment also lies at the core of every Washington Doorknock.