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2024 Europe Day Dinner celebrates 30 years of government exchanges

The ECCT celebrated Europe Day at its annual dinner to mark the occasion. It was the first Europe Day Dinner attended by ROC President Lai Ching-te since his inauguration as president on 20 May. The theme of this year’s dinner marked 30 years of advocacy and exchanges between the ECCT and the Taiwan government. In his speech at the dinner, ECCT chairman Giuseppe Izzo said that the ECCT’s exchanges with the government have not just been about promoting European business interests but about opening up Taiwan to the world and actively advancing Taiwan’s progress.

At the dinner, speeches were also delivered by President Lai and Filip Grzegorzewski, Head of the European Union’s (EU) European Economic and Trade Office (EETO). The event was attended by over 800 guests, including a dozen cabinet ministers and close to 100 other senior government officials, as well as executives from European and Taiwanese multinational corporations. The annual dinner is held to celebrate Europe Day, the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, which ultimately led to the formation of today’s European Union.

In his speech, Chairman Izzo noted the ECCT’s advocacy efforts have aways been ambitious. Following the launch of its first position papers in 1994, for most of the 1990s, the ECCT advocated for Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organisation. Thanks to the collective efforts of the government, the chamber and other advocates, Taiwan formally entered the WTO in 2002. This achievement led to an opening of numerous local market sectors and a massive increase in trade and investment. Since 2001, Taiwan’s annual international trade has risen four-fold to over US$900 billion while cumulative foreign direct investment has risen by 500%, of which over US$70 billion, or a third, has come from European companies.

In the years since, the ECCT has consistently promoted further international alignment of Taiwan’s regulatory environment and the government has consistently adopted the chamber’s recommendations, at a rate of around 20% every year, which have gradually increased Taiwan’s international standing and helped Taiwanese companies to become internationally competitive. Along with booming trade and investment, ECCT member companies have created thousands of well-paying jobs.

In addition to the advocacy work of ECCT committees, the chamber has set up cross-industry platforms to showcase and share the most advanced European and international ESG practices, helping to raise the bar for all enterprises in Taiwan. In particular, the chamber’s first cross-industry platform, the Low Carbon Initiative, was set up in 2012 to foster cooperation between ECCT members, the government and the general public aimed at achieving a circular economy and low carbon society. Two years ago, the chamber launched another platform, the Family Friendly Alliance, as a forum for collaboration with the government and other stakeholders to address the challenges resulting from Taiwan’s low birth-rate, ageing population and brain drain.

The chairman stressed that these efforts demonstrate the chamber’s willingness to go beyond business interests and work together with the government and social groups to tackle difficult challenges facing Taiwan. “These issues matter to us because Taiwan is our home,” he said. “While we represent European companies, we are registered as local entities. We pay the same tax rates as Taiwanese companies. 99% of our employees are ROC citizens. We live here and raise our children here. Every time we meet government and business leaders, from, in and beyond Europe, we champion Taiwan’s many virtues and achievements. In summary, we contribute to Taiwan’s development and act as true ambassadors of Taiwan.”

Chairman Izzo noted that many of the new government’s policy goals align with those of the chamber and urged the new administration to work together with business to realise them. This, he said, will require engaging in meaningful dialogue. He also stressed the need for a constant process of reflection and re-evaluation to make sure that the right priorities have been set and are followed.

On addressing the healthcare needs of an ageing population, Izzo expressed the view that future decisions should be guided by the basic question: What policies and actions will result in the best healthcare outcomes for all? On the question of sustaining multilateral trade and investment flows, the fundamental question he said we should ask is Taiwan doing enough to maintain and increase internationalisation? On the subject of the shortage of renewable energy in Taiwan, he said a simple question should evaluate all energy-related decisions: What action will get more wind turbines spinning by the end of the decade to sustain Taiwan’s digital leadership? On the subject of education, he said we should ask if the education system is preparing the next generation for the jobs of the future? On the question of talent, the crucial question to ask is what are the friendliest policies to attract the talented people that Taiwan needs to sustain its economy and society?

The chairman concluded by saying that navigating the difficult challenges ahead will take our collective wisdom and efforts, which is why it is essential that the ECCT and the government continue the process of constructive dialogue that has been going on for 30 years.

In his speech, Filip Grzegorzewski, said that he would be leaving Taiwan after five years in his post. He highlighted three observations about EU-Taiwan relations based on his experience: “We have built a strong economic relationship; We have built a strong political relationship; and We have built a strong human connection, based on shared values. Today, more people in Europe know about Taiwan, and more people in Taiwan know about Europe,” he said.

He went on to highlight growing trade and investment ties, noting that bilateral trade between the EU and Taiwan increased by 42.3% over the past four years. EU imports from Taiwan grew by 60%, while the EU exports to Taiwan went up by 27%. He added that the EU stands as Taiwan's foremost foreign investor, especially in wind power and high-tech industries. According to the EETO head, since 2018, EU companies have invested NT$300 billion into Taiwan's energy sector. Going the other way, Grzegorzewski said that Taiwanese investment in the EU has surged by 750% in 2023 compared to 2022 and that over the last four years, Taiwan invested more in the EU than during the previous 40 years. This, he said showed that Taiwan and the EU are both moving in the right direction to de-risk and diversify.

In his speech, President Lai President Lai Ching-te thanked the ECCT and European countries and companies for their contributions to strengthening trade and investment ties with Taiwan. He said that Taiwan-European Union (EU) relations are “at an all-time high” and Taiwan is ready and willing to work with European nations to address global issues together. The president went on to highlight the shared values of Europe and Taiwan, saying that while Europe and Taiwan may be separated by great distance, “we are very close in our determination to advance democracy, peace, prosperity and sustainability.” Noting that as Taiwan is advancing to develop more green energy, has the most advanced semiconductor manufacturing, stands at the centre of the AI revolution and is a key player in supply chains for global democracies, he believes that Taiwan and Europe “can each use their respective strengths to engage in exchanges and form an even closer and more solid partnership.” The president also said the country hopes to sign an economic partnership agreement with the EU which would give enterprises a better investment environment and more business opportunities.

After the speeches, guests enjoyed a sumptuous dinner, accompanied by fine wines. The dinner also served as a fund-raising event for a local charity. As it has done for the past 25 years, part of the proceeds from the dinner were donated to the Syin Lu Foundation (心路基金會), a non-profit organization that promotes early childhood intervention, adult community life assistance, employment rights and aged care for people with disabilities and their families in Taiwan.