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David Tawei Lee - Minister of Foreign Affairs

A Continuous Transformation

In the 1950s and 1960s, Taiwan embarked on a program of industrialization so transformative that it would become known, by the 1970s, as the Taiwan Economic Miracle.

With the help of international partners such as the United States and through the concerted efforts of Taiwan’s government and people, our economy rapidly transitioned over the latter half of the 20th century from labor-intensive sectors to high-tech manufacturing, which set the stage for Taiwan’s emergence as a world-leading technology hub.

Today, the country plays an indispensable role in the global supply chains for numerous critical technology products.

David Tawei Lee, Ph.D., Minister of Foreign Affairs

Taiwan’s competitive edge derives from its vibrant small and medium enterprises. Comprising some 97 percent of the nation’s companies, SMEs are the drivers of innovation and powerful vehicles for equitable growth. As such, the development of Taiwan’s thriving SME culture is a regular topic of discussion at Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings and other international forums.

Sharing Development Experience

As Taiwan carved out a vital position in the world economy, we moved from a recipient to a donor of international aid, while also eagerly sharing our development expertise. Capitalizing on our strengths in such areas as agriculture, healthcare and vocational training, Taiwan has launched scores of international cooperation projects in allied and partner nations.

Under these programs, our overseas specialists provide assistance to those most in need, as well as convey our experiences in establishing one of the world’s leading national healthcare systems.

Taiwan’s assistance programs emphasize capacity building in line with the old adage that we do not simply give people fish, but teach them how to fish. Through our diverse vocational training programs, specialists equip young people from recipient countries with practical skills in areas such as carpentry and plumbing. 

Over the past year, I have visited many nations to inspect projects implemented by our overseas medical, technical and trade missions. And I am constantly impressed by the passion and professionalism of our personnel. They deliver real and effective aid in communities across the globe and accelerate economic and social development in partner countries.

Mutually Beneficial Trade with the United States

Taiwan is committed to strengthening economic and investment ties with its trading partners including the United States. Our two countries have long enjoyed robust trade links characterized by high levels of supply chain integration, especially in high-tech manufacturing.

In 2016, the United States was Taiwan’s second-largest trading partner, while Taiwan was the 10th-biggest trading partner of the United States. Notably, Taiwan was also the seventh-largest agricultural export market of the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed concern about his nation’s trade deficits and has signed an executive order to investigate bilateral ties wherein it runs significant imbalances. Taiwan is listed 14th among the 16 countries subject to such scrutiny, with the United States having recorded a trade-in-goods deficit of around $13.3 billion with Taiwan last year.

But that figure does not reflect the mutually beneficial nature of our trade links. Each year, Taiwanese tech companies pay U.S. firms significant royalties for patented technologies. In addition, some of our military purchases are not included in U.S. trade statistics. To gain a more accurate picture of our trade relationship, we need to factor in these sales, as well as services related to intellectual property.

In response to President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” policy, Taiwan has sent its largest ever delegation to the SelectUSA Investment Summit in June. An agricultural mission will also visit major U.S. agricultural states to purchase large quantities of crops like corn, soybeans and wheat.

Many Taiwan companies that have made substantial investments in the United States, including those in Apple Inc.’s supply chain, are seeking to expand their American operations. As a result, Taiwan investments in the country, which reached an accumulated total of $26 billion by 2016, could increase to $35 billion in the short to medium term.

Ultimately, our goal is to bolster economic ties with the United States while expanding lines of communication to deepen discussions on issues of mutual concern. Given the complementary nature of our economies, we also believe that a trade agreement is in the best interest of both sides. Such an accord would further boost trade and investment, thus elevating our longstanding and healthy economic partnership to a new level.

Taiwan 2017 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

PDF of the printed report

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