James Renwick, Special to The China Post
As director of the Trade Office of Swiss Industries in Taipei for the last 14 years, Jorst Feer has certainly witnessed considerable change on the island in terms of political, economic and social developments.
But more significantly he has seen trade and bilateral investment blossom between his country and Taiwan. There are currently around 80 different Swiss companies in Taiwan, with over 800 firms active through local importers and agents.
And by their diversified presence in industries including manufacturing, trade and the service sector, their economic influence is considerable. Switzerland ranks as the fourth largest European investor in Taiwan after the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Germany. However Feer is modest about the achievements: “Throughout these years our cultural and political relations have been strengthened and I believe that there is ample room for further improvement,” he says.
Manufacturing interests of Swiss firms on the island include producing mostly food and electronics. And in terms of services industries such as consulting, banking and accounting, Swiss firms have also established a significant presence in Taiwan.
Many companies have also set up their regional headquarters here, says Feer, and this number is continuing to grow — in line with Taiwan’s migration away from manufacturing-orientated industries to a more high-tech industry and a service-based economy. In addition, Taiwan has become one of the most important export markets in Asia for Swiss products. After Japan and Hong Kong, Taiwan is the third largest market in Asia for the Swiss export industry and the 16th largest importer of Swiss goods in the world.
Fifty percent of these imports, says Feer, are of Swiss machinery. Other imported goods include chemicals, paper and plastics. Around 25 percent of Taiwan imports are pharmaceuticals and 15 percent are watches — Switzerland’s most famous export. Altogether Taiwan’s share of total Swiss exports is 1.12 percent. The Swiss also import a large number of goods from Taiwan, says Feer, the majority of which are PC-related goods, IT products and machinery. And as a society with a high degree of environmental awareness, the Swiss tend to import a large number of bicycles from Taiwan, absorbing 12 percent of total exports. The remainder includes all kinds of small machines and a small amount of textiles, says Feer.
Switzerland is Taiwan’s 29th largest export market and 21st most important importer with around 0.78 percent of import orders in Switzerland coming from Taiwan.
According to Feer, overall trade is in Switzerland’s favor with Taiwan importing US$1 billion in goods and Switzerland importing products worth US$800 million per year. But bilateral ties don’t stop at the door of trade; tourism is also a significant form of exchange between the two countries.
“After Japan, out of all of the countries in Asia, Taiwanese visit Switzerland in the greatest numbers,” Feer adds. With its long tradition of hospitality, its fascinating sights and natural beauty, Taiwan people have been choosing to go to Switzerland in ever-greater numbers. Switzerland is also a popular destination for overseas study for Taiwanese, Feer explains. Famous boarding schools and catering and hotel management colleges attract hundreds of the island’s students each year. University courses conducted in English, particularly in the field of technology, are also becoming increasingly popular for Taiwan students. According to Feer, there are currently around 220 Swiss nationals living in Taiwan. Some are missionaries, others are students and many are business people. Thursday Aug. 1 is Swiss National Day. The day is particularly significant this year because of the decision of the Swiss people to come out in favor of Switzerland’s membership in the U.N. It is expected to become the 190th member of the U.N. on Sept. 10. Switzerland also voted this year to become more closely involved with the European Union as of June 1, 2002.