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Taiwan'sEconomy:RecoverywithChineseCharacteristics|BrookingsInstitution

SERIES:TaiwanU.S.QuarterlyAnalysis | Number1of20

Opinion | November2009

Taiwan'sEconomy:RecoverywithChinese
Characteristics
By:MerrittT.Cooke
Editor'sNote:IntheinauguralinstallmentofCNAPSsTaiwanU.S.QuarterlyAnalysis
series,TerryCookeexploresthecausesandeffectsofTaiwanspursuitofeconomic
normalizationwithChina.Articlesinthisserieswillbewrittenbyleadingexpertson
theU.S.Taiwanrelationshipandwillcontainindepthanalysisofbilateraland
multilateralpolicychallengesforTaipeiandWashington.
Thepastyearhasbrought"onceinalifetime"upheavaltotheAsianregionaleconomyandto
worldmarkets.Asaresultofsystemicfailureinglobalfinancialmarkets,thepostWorldWar
IIpatternofinterdependentgrowthbetweenAsianexportersandWesternconsumersisunder
strainandischanging.Taiwan,oneoftheregion'spreeminentbeneficiariesofthis
arrangementoverthepastsixtyyears,findsitseconomyatanimportantcrossroads.Its
globallyintegrated"subeconomy"(electronicsandIT)hasbeendeeplyaffectedbytheglobal
creditsqueezeatthesametimethatitsdomesticeconomyhasbeenbatteredbyTyphoon
Morakot.ItshopesforaneconomicshotinthearmfrompossiblebilateralFreeTrade
Agreement(FTA)discussionswiththeUnitedStatesorfromabreakthroughintheWorld
TradeOrganizations(WTO)multilateralDohaRoundholdlittlepromiseforsuccessinthe
nearterm.
ThebrightspotforTaiwan'seconomyoverthepasttenmonthshasbeenrapidprogressin
"economicnormalization"withChinabuiltonanadhocframeworkofhighlevelcrossstrait
meetings.ThecurrentdirectionofthesetalkspointstoaformalagreementbetweenTaipei
andBeijingtheEconomicCooperationFrameworkAgreement(ECFA)tobesubstantively
workedoutbytheendof2009andsignedinearly2010.Asthesemilestonesapproach,key
questionsforTaiwanandtheregionarewhethertheECFAwillputTaiwan'seconomyona
moresustainabletrackofstablegrowthinanew,rebalancingglobaleconomyand,ifso,
whetherpoliticalbenefitssuchasChina'srecentacquiescencetoTaiwan'sobserverstatus
attheWorldHealthAssemblywillcontinuetofollow.Intheglobalarena,akeyquestionis
whetherTaiwan'scontributiontoregionaleconomicstabilizationthroughpursuitoftheECFA

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willleadtoshoreduppoliticalsupportfromWashingtonastheObamaadministration
continuestofocusontheKoreanpeninsulaandothercompetingclaimsonitsattentionin
EastAsia.
TheImpactofGlobalRecession
The2008/2009financialcrisisoriginatedinU.S.subprimemarketsbutquicklyspreadworld
wide.FollowingthedissolutionofLehmanBrothersonSeptember15,2008,theheaviest
effectsofthecrisisweresoonfeltintheworld'soilandcommodityproducingeconomiesand
intheexportledeconomiesofAsia.Ineffect,theglobalrecessionrepresentedareversegear
ofglobalization.Suddenlossofconfidenceledtoaseizingupofglobalcreditmarketswhich
inturnundercutglobaldemandformanufacturedgoodsfromAsiasexportjuggernaut(aswell
asfortheoilandresourcesrequiredtomanufacturethesegoods).Afeatureofthis
"globalizationinreverse"recessionwasthatrelativelyinsulatedeconomiessuchasthatof
BangladeshexperiencedmilderdislocationwhilenewlyemergingmarketssuchasEastern
EuropeandhighlyintegratedmarketssuchasSingaporeunderwentwrenchingdislocation.
Againstthisbackdrop,itiseasytounderstandthedegreeofchallengewhichtheglobal
recessionhasposedforTaiwan'seconomy.Withasmallinternalmarketofonly23million,
fully70percentofTaiwan'sgrossdomesticproductisaccountedforbyexports.Thelion's
shareoftheseexportsconsistsofelectronicsandinformationtechnologyproducts.Already
sufferingfromcommoditizationpressures,thissectorwasrockedintheearlydaysofthe
recessionbyuncertaintyinthefinalassemblymarketofChinaandbywidescale
cancellationsanddownscalingofpurchasecontractsinNorthAmerica,Europe,andJapan.
AsaresultofitsdependenceontheITsectoranditshighdegreeofintegrationwithglobal
supplychains,Taiwantookastrongerhitandistakingalongertimetorecoverfromthe
impactoftheglobalrecessionthanitsregionalcompetitors.Followinganalarming41.9
percentdropinexportsinJanuary,Taiwan'sexportscontinuedtofalloffmoreprecipitously
thanthoseoftheother"LittleDragon"economiesinAsiaoverthenextsixmonthsof2009:[1]
off32.8percentcomparedtodeclinesinexportsof17.2percentinHongKong,22percentin
SouthKorea,andaroughlycomparable31percentinSingapore.
Asaresultofthedismalinternationaltradeenvironmentinthefirsthalfof2009,theTaiwan
governmentisnowfacingarevenueshortfalllargelyattributabletofallingcorporateprofits,
governmentdebtapproachinglegallymandatedlimits,andalltimehighsinunemployment.
Thefirstharbingerofimprovementcameintheyear'ssecondquarter,withanimprovingtrade
surpluswithChinaasBeijing'sstimulustookholdandinventoriesforTaiwanintermediate
goodswererestocked.

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Enteringthefourthquarter,itisevidentthatTaiwan'seconomiccontractionforthe2009full
yearwillbegreaterthananticipated.Thisisdespitethegovernment'sfiscalstimulusfor
businessandconsumersandasignificantreductionofalmost250basispointsinits
benchmarklendingrate.InlateSeptember,theAsianDevelopmentBankadjustedits2009
forecastforTaiwandownwardtopredictafullyearcontractionoftheeconomyof4.9percent
in2009.Lookingforwardto2010,theAsianDevelopmentBankpredictsaGDPuptick[2]of
2.4percent.Forwardindicatorsandvariousmeasuresofbusinessconfidencearenow
trendingupwards.ThisanticipatedgrowthforTaiwan'seconomyin2010isbasedlargelyon
growingAsianleddemandandtightenedcommerciallinkswithChina.
So,withtraditionalmarketsinNorthAmerica,Europe,andJapanstillsluggishandChina's
economyforthemomentleadingthepaceofglobalrecovery,inwhatdirectiondoesTaiwan's
economyneedtomove?
ImmediateIssues
ThefirstandmostimmediateobstacleforTaiwan'seconomicrecoveryisthestillclouded
outlookforthebroaderrecoveryoftheglobaltechindustry,themostglobalizedpartof
Taiwan'seconomy.Earlyindicationsareforabroadbasedbutmodestrecoveryfromthe
globaltechsector'ssecondmajordownturnthisdecade.Whilestockmarketsaresignaling
investorconfidenceinareturntorobustcorporatespendingontechnology,industry
executivesthemselvesarefarmorecautious.RatherthanaclassicVshapedrecovery,
industryexecutivesareexpectingatbestaslowreboundwith2010capitalspendingbudgets
comparabletothedepressedlevelsof2009.
AsecondissueforTaiwan'seconomicleadersistoimprovetraderelationswiththeUnited
States.WhileaweakglobaleconomyandanewU.S.administrationmeanthatimmediately
achievablegoalsinthisareawillfallshortofaU.S.TaiwanFTA,thereisstillmuchforTaiwan
toaccomplishinthisarea.BeyondthecurrentcontroversyoverU.S.beefimportsinto
Taiwan,thereisanopportunityforTaiwantobuildonrecentpolicyadvancesintheretail,tax,
andtransportsectorstojumpstarttheresumptionoftheU.S.TaiwanTrade&Investment
FrameworkAgreementtalks(TIFA).TheTIFAFramework,initiallyestablishedin1994asa
highlevelgovernmentalforumforU.S.Taiwanconsultationonabroadrangeoftrade,
investmentandeconomicissues,hasbeenstalledrepeatedlyduetoU.S.dissatisfaction,
first,withTaiwan'sslowprogressinprotectingintellectualpropertyrightsand,morerecently,
withresolvinganarrayofsectorspecificconcerns(includingagriculturallicensingandimport
requirementspharmaceuticaltesting,labelingandcertificationtelecommunicationsmarket
barriersandfinancialserviceconstraints).

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Despitedomesticcontroversy,Taiwan'sliftingofitspartialbanonU.S.beefproductsandits
newU.S.TaiwanbeefprotocolrepresentapositivesteptowardTIFAresumption.So,too,do
threerecenttechnicaladjustmentsintradepolicyannouncedbyTaiwaninresponseto
lobbyingbytheAmericanChamberofCommerceinTaipei:(1)liberalizationofretailimportsof
Chinasourcedkitchenwareandporcelain(2)clarificationofthescopeof"Taiwansourced
income"forcorporatetaxpurposesand(3)improvedcustomsclearanceproceduresfor
digitalinvoicingofexpressconsignments.Ifthesestepscantranslatetomeaningfulprogress
undertheTIFAFramework,itthenbecomespossiblefortheU.S.TradeRepresentativeto
considerTaiwanasapotentialcandidateforfutureFreeTradeAgreement(FTA)talkswith
Taiwan,providedtheObamaadministrationthrowsitsweightbehindthatprocessandpushes
forratificationoftheFTAswithSouthKoreaandColombiawhichhavealreadybeen
negotiated.
TheChallengeofGlobalRebalancing
Beyondtheseimmediateuncertainties,abroaderchallengeliesontheroadaheadfor
Taiwan'seconomy.
Themorefundamental,longtermchallengeforTaiwan'seconomyrelatestoitsadjustmentto
anongoingrebalancingoftheglobalfinancialsystem.IntheUnitedStatesTaiwan'slargest
traditionaltradingpartnerthesechangesarealreadyproceedingapace.WhiletheU.S.
consumerandfinancialmarketswerestrongenoughtosupportonadeficitbasisthedramatic
expansionofworldtradefrom1972until2000,thoseconditionsmanifestlynolongerexist.At
theconsumerlevelintheUnitedStates,therearealreadysomesignsofconsumerattitudes
shiftingfromthehighconsumptionpatternofrecentdecadesbacktomorebalanced,
historicallygroundedpatternwithameaningfulsavingscomponent.Atthegovernmentlevel,
cornerstonesarebeingputinplacetoreinforcetheseattitudinalchangesthroughrevamped
taxandmonetarypolicy.
TherebalancingofChina'seconomyislikelytotakeplacemoregraduallythroughthe
elevationoftheG2Oandothervenues.ForChina,thisportendssomedegreeofshiftaway
from"neomercantilist,"exportfocusedgrowthstrategiesledbyheavyinvestmentin"hard"
infrastructure.Itsignalsagradualtransitiontowardamoresustainableeconomicmodel[3]
wheregrowthislessdependentonWesternconsumerpockets,whereprofitsfromgrowth
reachmoreChineseconsumer(andsmallbusiness)pockets,andwhereinvestmentflows
morereadilytothe"socialinfrastructure"ofeducation,healthcare,andpensions.
Thesetectonicshiftsinglobalmarkets,particularlyintheUnitedStatesandChina,represent
afundamentalchallengeforTaiwan'seconomy.Anylongtermsofteningofenduserdemand
forTaiwan'scoreproductsasaresultofchangedpatternsofconsumerandcorporate
spendinginWesternmarketswillnotbeeasilyrecoupedinChina[4]orelsewhere.Facing

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theseglobaltrendsandongoingmarginalizationintheregionaltradearena,Taiwanneedsa
gamechanger,bothtooffsettheseweaknessesinitseconomicpostureandtoencourage
closercooperationwithregionaltradepartners.Towithstandcommoditizationpressuresinthe
fastmovingITindustry,TaiwanmanufacturerswillneedtostayclosetoconsumersinChina
andotherkeymarketstomaintaintheirrecentpaceofinnovationinmobilehandsetsand
netbookcomputers.Totapregionalmarketsmoreeffectivelythroughtradeagreements,
TaiwanneedstoovercomeconcernsaboutpossibleBeijingdispleasureamongpotentialtrade
partners.(WhiletherecentwarmingofrelationsbetweenTaiwanandChinahaslargelyended
"checkbookdiplomacy"and"recognitiontugofwar"inthepoliticalsphere,Taiwanhasbeena
wallflowerinthebilateralandregionaltradeagreement"speeddating"thathascroppedupas
theDohaRoundhasdraggedoninconclusivelyandrisksbeingleftoutoftheblooming
regionalandglobaltraderelationships.)FormalizingclosertradelinkswithChinawouldinone
sweephelpboostTaiwan'seconomyanditsaccesstoothereconomiesaroundtheworld.
TheECFAasaPathForward
MiredinaweaklyreboundingtechsectorandretrenchingWesternmarkets,Taiwanis
countingheavilyoneconomicrapprochementwithChina.TheEconomicCooperation
FrameworkAgreement(ECFA)putforwardbyTaiwan'sPresidentMaYingjeouinFebruary
2009hasnowbeentakenupinearnestbyTaipeiandBeijingasthemainharnessformoving
bilateralrelationsforward.Inessence,theECFAamountstoabilateralpreferentialor"free"
tradeagreementbetweenTaiwanandChina,adjustedtechnicallytoaccountforsovereignty
concernsonbothsides.ThethreeprecedinghighlevelroundsofmeetingsbetweenTaiwan
andChina,mediatedbytheStraitsExchangeFoundation(SEF)inTaiwanandthe
AssociationforRelationsAcrosstheTaiwanStrait(ARATS)inBeijing,havealreadyproduced
aseriesofsignificanteconomicgainsforTaiwan:adoublingofdirectflightsbetweenChina
andTaiwantothelevelof270perweekafurtherboostingofmainlandtourismtoTaiwan
beyondtherecentlyachievedlevelof3000visitorsperdayaFinancialFramework
Agreementtocreateasupervisorymechanismforfinancialservicecompaniesoperatingin
bothmarketsapartialopeningofTaiwan'seconomytodirectinvestmentinselectindustries
bymainlandfirmsandregulatoryagreementsgoverningfoodsafetyinspectionsandcross
straitantifraudcooperation.
TheobjectivenowinTaiwanistobeginsubstantivetalksoninstitutionalizingtheECFAbythe
endoftheyearandtosignaformalagreementwithChinainearly2010.Pressureisonin
Taiwantoadheretothistimeline,evenasitspoliticallypolarizedpublicstragglestoabsorbits
implications.ThatChina'sFTAwithASEANtakeseffectonJanuary1,2010isthemain
impetusfortheMaadministrationtogetitspublictorallyaroundtheECFAquickly.Inaddition

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togivingTaiwanexportersamorelevelplayingfieldinChinaandSoutheastAsia,thereisalso
thehopethataTaiwanChinaECFAmightleadtoenablingSingaporetofollowthatprecedent
withaTaiwanSingaporeFTA.
Significantly,privatesectoranalysisofthelikelyimpactshowsthattheECFAwillhave
minimalbenefitforTaiwan'sITindustry.ThisisbecausetheITindustry,alreadyhighly
integratedintotheglobalsupplychain,faceslowcommoditytaxesofonly0.58percentwhen
exportingitscomponentstoChinaforassemblyandreshipmenttoworldmarkets.By
contrast,thetariffbarriersfacingexportedproductsfromTaiwan'smoretraditionalindustrial
sectorspetrochemicals,heavymachinery,steel,automotive,buildingmaterials,andtextiles
aresignificantlyhigher.Accordingly,thesetraditionalsectorsofTaiwan'seconomystandto
gainmorefromtheECFAthanTaiwan'stechsector.
AllofthisisrequiringtheMaadministrationtoundertakestrenuouseffortstoeducateitspublic
ofthepotentialbenefitsoftheECFA.Despitesomeclearstructuraladvantageswhichthe
proposedECFAholdsforTaiwangivenitsstrengthsinknowledgebasedindustries,[5]there
isgrowingconcernandappreciableriskfortherulingpartyinupcomingregionalelectionsifit
failstopersuasivelymakethecasefortheECFA.Currently,theMinistryofEconomicAffairs
isleadingtheadministrationseffortsinthisregard,identifying"earlyharvestlists"ofsectors
whichstandtobenefitdirectlyfromtheECFAandinitiallyexcludingfromtheagreementa
numberofproductcategories[6]wheredirectcompetitionwithmainlandfirmsismore
politicallyproblematic.Theadministration'scasewasunderlinedinmidOctoberbyareport
fromtheCouncilofLaborAffairswhichshowedapositiveimpactof0.75percentGDPgrowth
andanetgainof125,000jobsunderafavorableECFAscenarioandadipofalmost0.2
percentinGDP,accompaniedbyanetlossof47,000jobs,intheeventoftheECFAnotbeing
concluded.EvenChinahasbeenworkingtodemonstratethebenefitsofanECFAtothe
Taiwanpublic(whilepresumablyalsodemonstratingitsroleasaresponsibleregional
stakeholdertoaglobalaudience).MorethanahalfdozenprocurementmissionsfromChina
havecometoTaiwanin2009andpurchasedclosetoU.S.$10billioninconsumer
electronics,processedfoods,andothergoods.
Inbroadview,thekeydynamicinallofthesedevelopmentsistheirlesserimpactforthe
globallyintegratedandgloballymainstreamsectorsofTaiwan'seconomy(i.e.IT/electronics)
andtheirrelativelygreaterimpactformoreparochialsectorsofTaiwan'straditionaleconomy.
Bynormalizingcrossstraitcommercialrelationsinthese"stodgier"sectors,theECFAmakes
possibleanoverduestructuraladjustment.Alongwithgreatercompetition,theagreement
promisesnewmarketsinthemainlandandanewlevelofregionalandglobaleconomic
integration,viatheChinamarketspringboard.

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PerhapstheshockofaneconomicdownturnwasrequiredtopositionTaiwanandChinafor
thisnextlevelofmutualengagementandeconomicintegration.WhilejointentryintotheWTO
wasimmeasurablyimportanttobothpartiesasaconfidencebuildingmeasure,Genevahas
notservedasanarenafordirectlyadvancingbilateralrapprochement.Whileeconomic
integrationhasproceededapacetomeldthetwocountries'ITsectorsintoanearlyseamless
globalsupplychain,integrationofother,moretraditionalsectors(suchasagriculture,
transportation,energy,andpetrochemicals)hasbeenimpededbypoliticaloppositionand,in
somecases,bynationalsecurityconcerns.
WhiletheglobalfinancialcrisismayhavepushedTaiwanandChinasignificantlycloserin
theireconomicrelationship,neitherpartyseemstobeignoringthekey"lessonslearned"from
thecrisis.ThedeliberateECFAprocessisstructuredonasharedrecognitionthatcrossstrait
integrationneedstobepursuedinmeasuredandbalancedfashion,notasapellmellrush.
Thestagingofthesetalksthroughouttheyearhasbeendesignedtoallowtimeforpublic
opinioninTaiwantorecognizetheneedfor,andtohelpshapethefinalformof,thisoutcome.
Inthefinalanalysis,theECFAseemstorepresentarecognitioninbothTaipeiandBeijingthat
theyneedtoworktogethertocomanagetheimpactofglobaleconomiccrisisbyadding
previouslyinsulatedsectorsoftheirrespectiveeconomiestothecrossstraitgrid.
AroundtheCorner
Forsoundeconomicreasons,thegovernmentinTaiwanisforgingdowntheECFApathinan
attempttorecaptureforwardmomentumfollowingayearofstalledeconomicperformance.
ThoseatthehelmofTaiwanseconomyhavemadeclear[7]thattheECFAisnotmerelya
shorttermtacticalshifttogainfromtheworldleadingpaceofgrowthacrosstheStraitof
Taiwanrather,itreflectsstrategicrecognitionofthefactthattraditionalsectorsofTaiwans
economystandtogainfromthedegreeofintegrationwiththeworldthatthetechnologysector
haslongenjoyed.Inshort,thelongertermpathtoeconomicrecoveryforTaiwanisthrough
fullerintegrationwithglobalmarkets,notonlyinthetechsectorbutacrossthespectrumofits
economy.TheECFArepresentsasignificantstagetowardsthatgoalbypromisingto
normalizeeconomicchannelsrupturedthroughdecadesofpoliticalantagonismandposturing
withChina.WhatevervarietyofeconomicrecoveryChinaultimatelyexperiencesV,U,orW
andwhateverformofrebalancingultimatelytakesplacebetweenexcessivesavingsin
ChinaandoverconsumptionintheUnitedStates,Taiwancannotrealisticallyaffordanyofits
economiccylinderstobeidled.Integratingmorefullywiththemainlandeconomythroughthe
ECFAroadmapwillallowTaiwantocapturedrivefromChina'srapidgrowth,tocontributeto
theprosperityandstabilityoftheregionaleconomy,andtoparticipatewithahigherdegreeof
integrationintheglobaleconomy.

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TheUnitedStates'stakeintheseoutcomesissignificant,asisitsroleinsupportingtheir
realization.AstodirectAmericaneconomicandcommercialstakeinTaiwan,theObama
administrationshouldrecognizetherecentstepsmadebytheMaadministrationandjoinin
advancingtheTIFAprocess.Foritsbroaderstakeincrossstraitprosperityandstability,the
UnitedStatesshouldbeappropriatelyencouragingofTaipei'sandBeijing'smovestofurther
normalizecrossstraitcommercialtiesthroughtheECFAprocess.Inessence,theECFA
outcomewouldrepresentintheeconomicspherethelongstandingU.S.policyposition
towardcrossstraittensioningeneralnamely,U.S.supportforChinaandTaiwantoact
togethertoresolvetheirdifferencesbypeacefulmeans.SuccessfulconclusionofanECFA
wouldnotonlyprovide"politicalcover"forregionaltradepartnerstoconcludetheirowntrade
agreementswithTaiwan,itwouldprovideanopportunityfortheUnitedStatestovalidatethe
successofBeijing'sandTaipei'sjointeffortseconomicallyandpolitically.

[1]Thefollowingfiguresrepresentexportperformanceagainstprioryearresultsforthe
sevenmonthperiodJanJul2009.
[2]Amore'dynamic'modelusedbyTaiwan'sChunghuaInstitutionforEconomicResearch
(CIER)callsfor4.65percentincreaseinGDPfor2010.
[3]SeecommentarybyQinXiao,ChairmanofChinaMerchantsGroup,"ChinaMustKeepIts
EyesFixedontheExit,"FinancialTimes,October21,2009,p.9.
[4]TheLenovocasestudyillustratesbothhowdifficultithasbeenforChineseowned
manufacturerstodislodgeTaiwanITfirmsfromtheirperchintheglobalITvaluechainand
howimportantthePRCdomesticmarketisintheircurrentstrategytowrestglobalmarket
shareawayfromTaiwanfirms.
[5]See"Taiwan'sImprovingRelationshipwithChina,"TheEconomist,May7,2009,p.48.
[6]Theseincludemanyagriculturalproductsandcertainindustrialproductssuchassteel,
footwear,whitegoods,printedcircuitboards,andothers.
[7]"NotonlywilltheECFAstrengthenoureconomictieswithChina,itisalsokeytoTaiwan's
connectionwiththeworldmarket."(MinisterofEconomicAffairsShihYenhsiang,Taiwan
Today,September18,2009)

AUTHOR

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MerrittT.Cooke
Founder,GC3StrategyInc.

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