Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou outlined the major economic opportunities and challenges facing Taiwan June 25 at a forum organized by the United Daily News Group.
The shifting of the global economic center of gravity to the Asia-Pacific region, where Taiwan is centrally located, is an important opportunity, Ma said.
Business openings arising from new world trends such as green energy and digitalization are also areas that Taiwan can exploit to its competitive advantage, he added.
Moreover, the peace dividends from improved cross-strait relations can help Taiwan use its cultural and historical links with mainland China to partner with multinational corporations to expand into the mainland Chinese market.
Cross-strait rapprochement has also made more countries willing to deepen economic ties with Taiwan, Ma said.
He pointed out that Taiwan must overcome the threat of economic marginalization, however, as regional economic integration in Asia-Pacific has been the fastest globally, with nearly 60 bilateral free trade agreements inked to date.
But Taiwan has only signed four FTAs, excluding the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), and all of them have been with minor trading partners in Central America that account for less than 1 percent of the island’s total foreign trade.
“Only after the signing of ECFA was Taiwan able to ink an investment guarantee pact with Japan, and currently we are engaged in talks with Singapore and New Zealand on signing economic cooperation agreements,” Ma said.
“We are trailing other nations in the Asia-Pacific,” he stressed, pointing to South Korea, which has signed eight major bilateral FTAs and is now negotiating seven more.
“In this situation, we have to catch up fast,” he said, adding that “pacts with New Zealand and Singapore, through their membership in the group of states negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, can help us adjust our economic makeup.”
As Taiwan is excessively reliant on exports in a small number of industries, such as information and communications technology, if restructuring is not accelerated, the nation’s development will be restricted.
To address this issue, he continued, the government has been actively promoting emerging, intelligent and service industries.
Labor supply and demand are also imbalanced, Ma said. To improve this situation his administration has been implementing job training programs, as well as devising means to attract talented individuals, he noted.
Another challenge is ensuring that the fruits of economic growth are fairly distributed. “Domestic unemployment has been gradually dropping, but wage increases have been limited, so the government is promoting tax reform so as to provide better care for the disadvantaged,” he said.
The final major test is achieving sustainable development, Ma pointed out. “Although the government’s promotion of energy conservation and carbon reduction measures has been fairly effective, international standards in this regard are becoming ever stricter, and achieving the nation’s 2020 carbon reduction goals will be a difficult task,” he said.
“While Taiwan enjoys many competitive advantages, it is the government’s responsibility to remove all obstacles to the country’s economic competitiveness and vitality.”