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2019 Europe Day Dinner

The ECCT's 2019 Europe Day Dinner was attended by over 700 guests including President Tsai Ying-wen, Madeleine Majorenko, Head of the European Union's (EU) European Economic and Trade Office (EETO) in Taiwan, senior government officials, European trade and institute representatives and executives from European and Taiwanese companies. The theme of this year's dinner was "Strengthening ties for Future Success". At the dinner speeches were given by President Tsai, the EETO Head and the ECCT chairman. The annual dinner celebrates Europe Day, the anniversary of the Schumann Declaration in 1950, which paved the way for the creation of what has evolved into today's European Union.

In his speech at the annual Europe Day Dinner, ECCT Chairman Giuseppe Izzo stressed that the enormous geopolitical, environmental and economic challenges facing governments and corporations the world over cannot be solved without finding common ground and taking collective action. He began by noting that we live in a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – where governments, businesses and citizens of the world are facing multiple challenges – geopolitical, environmental and economic where digitalisation, automation and competition are disrupting business models and supply chains and the associated rise of the so-called "gig" economy is disrupting traditional employer/employee dynamics and eroding social safety nets. "These challenges are too great to take on alone. However, if we work together to find common ground and take collective action, then we have a good chance of success," he said.

The chairman stressed that the ECCT already has excellent ties with the government, saying that the four-year high reached in progress made on issues raised in the ECCT's position papers last year, is testament to this. However, he said that there are areas where cooperation could be strengthened further and he went on to highlight a few of them.

He pointed out that wind energy has the potential to increase energy security, reduce pollution and create a whole new high value industry in Taiwan. On 25 April, the ECCT hosted the largest and most prominent wind energy summit ever held in Taiwan. "All of the world's top industry players represented there said they are optimistic that Taiwan can become a regional hub for offshore wind energy development in Asia. However the industry is still in a fragile stage which is why it is imperative that the regulatory framework remains stable, consistent and predictable to ensure confidence in the long-term sustainability of the industry," he said. He went on to list the hurdles and bottlenecks that need to be overcome including grid connections, finance, insurance, vessels, infrastructure and securing talent. In addition, he noted that rules on localization have to flexible enough to allow enough time to build facilities, train staff and ramp up production without raising costs, causing delays or compromising safety and quality and that developers should also be allowed to adapt their plans to take advantage of the latest technology when it becomes available.

The chairman stressed that European investments in the wind energy sector are already benefitting local suppliers and creating high-paying jobs that will be sustained for decades to come. Besides some equipment and services not initially available locally, most of the investment money will be spent on goods and services supplied by Taiwanese companies and most salaried employees are Taiwanese. Moreover, as the industry matures, a much larger portion of the value will be created and retained in Taiwan, meaning that Taiwan and the Taiwanese people will be the biggest winners.

Besides wind energy, ECCT investments in R&D and training in multiple sectors raise the skills and expertise of local employees and thereby help to move Taiwan up the value chain. The chairman noted, for example, that many ECCT firms run clinical trials in Taiwan that are conducted by medical experts who gain important knowledge while increasing their own skills. Many of them are invited to give lectures and training at international conferences and universities. Besides expanding and improving Taiwan’s own talent pool, these experts also help to raise Taiwan's profile internationally, which enhances Taiwan's soft power.

On the subject of healthcare, while Taiwan has one of the world's best universal national health insurance programmes, the system is facing challenges from a low birth rate and rapidly-aging society. The resultant increase in chronic diseases is putting a strain on resources. He therefore urged further investments in disease prevention and adopting more flexible business models to increase private sector involvement in the healthcare sector.

Another great challenge in the VUCA world highlighted in the chairman's speech is providing quality jobs. Changing industry trends requires people to constantly learn and upgrade their skills, he said. In addition, governments will need to devise new social safety nets that provide both flexibility and security for those in and out of the workforce. In particular, the lack of adequate provisions for retirement is a global problem. Chairman Izzo therefore recommend following examples from countries that have been successful in encouraging residents to set aside larger portions of their incomes for their pensions.

The chairman went on to highlight the need for more flexible labour laws for the VUCA world, noting that Taiwan's current laws are out of step with modern business practices and the needs and desires of workers and should therefore be amended to take into account the complexities and nuances of the modern workplace.

In his speech, Chairman Izzo also praised the government's various efforts to relax hiring restrictions and incentives to attract foreign employees as well as progress in, for example, recognising the Alien Residence Certificate (ARC) as an ID document, extending health insurance to children of foreign nationals born in Taiwan and allowing Alien Permanent Residence Certificate (APRC) holders to join the government pension scheme. However, he noted that more could be done to remove the remaining issues of discriminatory treatment towards foreign residents. For example, various benefits such as transport discounts for pensioners, the disabled and subsidies for electric vehicles and are not yet given to ARC holders. "Foreigners who live, work and pay taxes in Taiwan should be granted the same rights and privileges of Taiwanese residents," he said.

The chairman went on to reiterate the ECCT's support for the government's blueprint for developing Taiwan into a bilingual nation by 2030 and the objective to boost people's English proficiency in order to enhance Taiwan's international competitiveness.

The chairman also reiterated the ECCT's support for an EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA). He noted that ECCT representatives participated in a hearing run by the European Parliament's committee on international trade where they stressed the importance of Taiwan to European business and offered strong arguments for a BIA. "In an era when there are growing movements against globalisation, we welcome Taiwan's commitment to remain open and to seek further international cooperation. We therefore believe that implementing a BIA, which also addresses non-tariff barriers, would be good for economic growth and for creating jobs in both Europe and Taiwan. This is yet another example of where Europe and Taiwan are strengthening ties for future success," he said.

In her speech Madeleine Majorenko spoke about expanding economic, government and cultural ties between the EU and Taiwan, noting that bilateral trade has increased by close to 30% over the past four years, the extent and level of bilateral dialogue has expanded and foreign direct investment has risen. She went on to stress the importance of the open, rule-based multilateral trading system, which is now under threat from unilateral measures and nationalistic trade, saying that as WTO members embracing openness and free trade, Taiwan and the EU should work together not only to pursue business opportunities but also collaborate to defend the rule-based multilateral trading system.

In her speech President Tsai said that economic ties between Taiwan and the EU have never been stronger, built on their shared values of democracy and rule of law, which need to be protected. She went on to thank the ECCT, European governments and parliamentarians for their support of Taiwan's participation in the forthcoming World Health Assembly of the World Health Organisation. She reiterated figures of growing economic trade and investment. She singled out progress made in the wind energy sector and reiterated the government's commitment to seeing the successful development of the sector with the help of European corporations. She went on to say that the government is making progress on the issues raised on the ECCT's position papers. She mentioned moving towards making Taiwan a bilingual nation, relaxing regulations on hiring foreign professionals and plans to make the ARC number format compatible with ROC IDs. She expressed the hope that ties will continue to strengthen, noting that Taiwan is an ideal partner for Europe in many new industry sectors.

The Europe Day dinner was an opportunity to enjoy some superb cuisine. The dinner also served as a fund-raising event for charity. During the evening, ECCT Chairman Giuseppe Izzo handed over a donation to the Syin-Lu foundation, represented by its president, Pony Hsu. Established in 1987, the Syin-Lu Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes empowerment and economic self-sufficiency for the handicapped in Taiwan. A portion of the proceeds from the dinner have been donated to the foundation, every year for over 20 years.