Can Taiwan be an American Gateway to Southeast Asia? The US Hopes So

Can Taiwan be an American Gateway to Southeast Asia? The US Hopes So
Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像
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Even as the US turns away from globalization, the Small Business Administration is trying to ramp up trade with Taiwan and Southeast Asia

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The United States' Small Business Administration (SBA) is looking to secure more trade with Taiwan, or so said one official at a joint media interview at the American Insititute in Taiwan (AIT) last week.

Eugene Cornelius, Jr, the Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of International Trade with the U.S. SBA, arrived in Taiwan to sell the idea of cooperation between American small businesses and those in Taiwan.

Cornelius said that he believed Taiwan could be a hub for international trade, as it had the skilled workforce, infrastructure and technology that was still absent in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Although U.S. withdrew from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) earlier this year, Cornelius seemed keen to use Taiwan to keep pushing better trade relations with Southeast Asia.

When asked about the TPP, he said, "I believe that trade agreements are a vehicle in an arsenal of economic development that can be used for global interactions, but they aren't exclusive. I think that what is already in a territory … can be as valuable as an agreement. I don't think you necessarily need an agreement to move your positioning in the market of the global economy."

Moving into a digital economy and pushing small entrepreneurship was another focus of his mission, where he said American software expertise could meet Taiwan's hardware industry. The rise of the digital economy has meant that small businesses have had to become more outwardly-focused.

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Credit: AIT

Cornelius said, "The digital economy is something we have to prepare our future workforce for. The internet is going into [hyperdrive]. It is going to be three times faster, more sophisticated, building on industrialization. It is going to be impacting what we do. It is going to be detrimental to every country, including the U.S., if we are not embracing it. It's a global issue."

"I think that some … economies around the world have been relying on the old, industrial way of educating, 'we will graduate you to go find a job.' I think we need to go into schools and talk about entrepreneurs and the possibility of being innovative in their own right."

"If we are going to change from an industrial economy to an innovation economy, we have to get more aggressive with it."

The SBA is typically more domestically-focused, doing such work as counseling small businesses, creating access to capital, helping them secure government contracts, and helping them after natural disasters. This was Cornelius' first trip to Taiwan, where he was primarily setting up business round-tables and speaking to university groups and tech incubators.

Taiwan is even more reliant that the U.S. on small businesses – 78 percent of workers are employed by an SME in Taiwan, compared to 48 percent in the US.

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