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2015 Europe Day Dinner

On 14 May 2015 the ECCT held its annual Europe Day Dinner, which celebrates the first steps taken towards founding what has evolved into the European Union. The event was attended by over 650 distinguished guests including President Ma Ying-jeou, Frederic Laplanche, Head of the European Union's (EU) European Economic and Trade Office (EETO) in Taiwan, senior government officials and executives from European and Taiwanese companies. The theme of this year's dinner was "Enhancing Europe-Taiwan Partnership and Prosperity". At the dinner speeches were given by President Ma, the EETO Head and ECCT Chairman Bernd Barkey.

In his speech at the dinner ECCT Chairman Bernd Barkey noted that Taiwan has witnessed remarkable economic and social progress in recent years and built a solid foundation for future prosperity. He highlighted the successful weathering of the 2008 global financial crisis, joining the World Trade Organisation's Government Procurement Agreement, lowering the corporate tax rate to 17%, progress in cross-Strait relations, the granting of visa-free status to ROC passport holders with the European Union and increasing trade in goods, services and investments between the EU and Taiwan.

Chairman Barkey went on to praise the government's efforts to tackle issues important to ECCT members, pointing out that around 20% of the issues facing ECCT members are resolved every year and that incremental progress towards adopting international standards and practices over a number of years adds up to substantial progress. "Every issue resolved helps to build a better regulatory environment and improve Taiwan's competitiveness," he said.

The chairman's speech highlighted some of Taiwan's core strengths: Taiwan has become a dynamic player in the global economy with good transport and communications infrastructure, a relatively consistent legal system, a stable government, a highly skilled workforce, reputable academic institutions and a functioning universal healthcare system. If these core strengths could be taken advantage of and built upon he said that he believed much more could be achieved, especially if Europe and Taiwan worked together. He went on to point out that while most ECCT members have headquarters in Europe, the distinction between what is a European, international or Taiwanese company is no longer such an important one given that European companies are registered as legal entities in Taiwan, pay the same taxes as Taiwanese companies, give contracts to locally-based operators, who in turn get supplies and services from locally-based operators. Moreover, training and R&D spending helps to boost skills and raise standards, which in turn boosts Taiwan's competitiveness. "All of this activity creates a virtuous circle of generating economic growth and moving Taiwan further up the value chain," he remarked.

Barkey went on to express the view that that if the right actions are taken, he is optimistic about Taiwan's future. Referring to the ECCT's 2015 Position Papers, he said that Taiwan has the potential to become a showcase for smart, low carbon cities, a healthcare innovation hub, a regional financial centre and a renewable energy showcase if the best technologies and solutions are adopted. However, to achieve the best results requires the right regulatory environment, pragmatic policies and cooperation between all stakeholders, he said.

Citing the ECCT Low Carbon Initiative's report on industrial energy efficiency in Taiwan released in March this year, the chairman said that much more could be done to improve energy efficiency in Taiwan's industrial sector. In addition, Taiwan could be much more proactive in making the building sector more energy efficient and promoting renewable energy. Moreover, as services become increasingly important to the economy, improving the skills and competitiveness of Taiwan's service industry is vital to Taiwan's future economic prosperity. "Our members in the IT, financial, healthcare, retail, logistics and other service industries have the skills and capital to help develop Taiwan into an even more advanced provider of a full range of services. By working together, we can attract investment, create jobs and generate economic growth for both Europe and Taiwan," he stated.

The chairman concluded his speech by making the point that while Taiwan has made great progress towards the further internationalisation of Taiwan's regulatory system in recent years, given the fact that the world is constantly changing, to meet the needs of societies in the 21st century, Taiwan needs a regulatory system that is not only international but also smart. Extrapolating on this point, he expressed the view that a smart regulatory system starts with strict regulations to safeguard health and safety, followed up with practical compliance and enforcement procedures that do not overly burden the resources of government or businesses. He said that the ECCT would assist the government by continuing to share information and best practices aimed at creating a safe, advanced and competitive environment for all goods and services in Taiwan similar to the one practiced in Europe, which is a combination of strict health and safety standards, practical and effective quality control and monitoring systems and self-regulation on the part of the industry.

In his speech President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated a call for the EU and Taiwan to begin negotiating a bilateral trade or investment agreement. He said that such a deal would have a synergistic effect that would allow both sides to benefit from the cross-Strait peace dividend and the resultant Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and other agreements between Taiwan and with China that are already in place.

In his speech at the dinner, EETO Head Frédéric Laplanche noted that the EU economy has improved and forecasts now call for GDP growth of 1.8% this year and 2.1% in 2016, an upward revision from last year. He noted that Taiwan was the EU's 19th largest trading partner globally in 2014 and the EU was once again the largest provider of Foreign Direct Investment in Taiwan although Taiwanese investment in Europe was still low, despite a very attractive exchange rate.

Laplanche said that strengthening growth in Europe will offer new opportunities for everyone. In this regard, he said a "Mission for Growth" to Taipei led by the European Commission in June this year will contribute. The mission delegation will include more than 50 companies from across Europe interested in establishing links in Taiwan. Laplanche also lauded the excellent cooperation brought about by the European Business and Regulatory Cooperation (EBRC), which brings together stakeholders from both the public and private sectors with the aim of improving the business environment in Taiwan. He also spoke positively about the ECCT's Low Carbon Initiative saying that by working together, the EU, Taiwan and ECCT members can and must do much more to fight against climate change and protect the environment, the water and the quality of the air we breathe.

The Europe Day dinner was an opportunity to enjoy some superb entertainment and cuisine. Guests were treated to fine western cuisine and wine and a string quintet performance by students from the Taipei European School.

The dinner also served as a fund-raising event for charity. During the evening, ECCT Chairman Bernd Barkey Izzo handed over a donation to the Syin-Lu foundation, represented by Syin-Lu President Pony Hsu. Established in 1987, the Syin-Lu Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes empowerment and economic self-sufficiency for handicapped children and adults and their families in Taiwan. A portion of the proceeds from the dinner have been donated to the foundation, every year for the past 15 years.

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