As Taiwan continues to increase fines on ride-sharing service Uber and some lawmakers push to have its app made unavailable, a top Uber executive has urged the country to “lift [its] head up and see what’s happening elsewhere.”

Uber continues to face difficulties in its operations in Taiwan, amassing fines of up to US$68 million, amid ongoing tax and business legality issues.

Speaking at a forum on how Taiwan’s government could further develop its digital economy hosted by the Sharing Economy Industry Association (SEIA) in Taipei this morning, Uber board member and strategic adviser David Plouffe (pictured above) said that the Uber debate was one that had been settled in most countries, including Brazil, the Philippines and Malaysia.

“We’re not talking about nuclear physics, or Elon Musk trying to put us all on the moon. This is fairly uncomplicated in the scheme of things,” said Plouffe, when asked about what legislation was needed in Taiwan to foster an innovation-friendly environment.

Plouffe believes that Taiwan has the benefit of being able to refer to regulations used by other countries, most of which are very similar, to decide what laws are applicable and required in the local market.

“All of this could be settled in a day,” he said.

In response to a question on how Uber would resolve its legal issues in Taiwan, Plouffe said that the company has ongoing conversations with governments in all the countries it operates in.

However, he emphasized the need for regulatory structures that allowed for ride-sharing and said that Taiwan also needed to enable activities like carpooling, which has been a public policy goal in most major cities for the past 50 years.

“Ride-sharing is becoming an enormously important part of the economy in most places, even here in Taiwan. Thousands of people are making money every day, and that can grow exponentially,” said Plouffe.

Plouffe, a former advisor and campaign manager for U.S. President Barack Obama, said that if government officials want to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship they need to have the “right mentality.”

Opposition legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁) made a brief appearance at the forum. He told reporters that he was working on a Digital Economy Act, which he hoped could pass its first reading at an upcoming Legislative Yuan meeting.

“This act will provide basic regulations for the digital economy, and we hope to resolve some of the larger barriers faced by the digital industry,” said Hsu, “like providing tax breaks on the 20 percent withholding tax [rate] on overseas income for digital companies.”

Hsu also said he was quite surprised when he heard that amendments had been passed to increase the penalties on Uber.

“It’s as if Taiwan is trying to beat these foreign start-ups into submitting to Taiwanese regulations, and if they don’t follow the laws then the government tries to kick them out,” said Hsu.

“The Taiwanese government is also trying to combat Uber by coming up with its own version of the ride hailing app, but in the digital economy, national boundaries are no longer existent,” Hsu said, “if our legislature does not change, a small country like Taiwan will not be able to compete on the global stage.”

Governments need to understand that allowing companies like Uber and Airbnb into Taiwan is not a choice between the old and the new, Plouffe said.

“I think to be saying you want to be the Silicon Valley of Asia, but potentially pushing out a country’s innovative companies is not the right message,” he said. “This is not the message you want to be heard around the world.”

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang