Taiwan: tiger island

Taiwan, one of Asia’s four economic tigers, is powered by small and medium-sized companies with big ambitions.

Taiwan, one of Asia’s four economic tigers, is a unique democracy. It operates as a sovereign nation although China claims ownership and, to assert that, aims more than 1,000 missiles at Taiwan at all times. Nevertheless, the island of 23 million people has carved its own destiny since 1949, when civil war leader Chiang Kai-shek fled China and set up his government in its capital, Taipei City.

Small and medium-sized companies with big ambition are Taiwan’s economic engine. Its primary exports are electronics, machinery and petro-chemicals. Relations with China are fraught with political problems, but the two signed an economic agreement in 2010. In 2013, Taiwan finalized trade agreements with New Zealand and Singapore.

Taiwan has a large trade surplus, mostly due to trade with China. Its challenges include a low birth rate, aging population and diplomatic isolation. Taiwan is recognized diplomatically by 22 countries, but has unofficial representative offices in most other countries.

Business etiquette

  1. Wrap it up: gifts are customary; don’t go empty-handed. Take Canadian crafts or maple syrup. To really impress, offer Canadian ice wine.
  2. Talk to the head: the head of the company may not speak fluent English, but even through a translator, direct your comments his or her way.
  3. Card smarts: the Taiwanese present their business cards at the beginning of meetings by holding them with both hands. Do the same. Be sure the information faces them, not you.
  4. Be on time: punctuality is important. If you have an appointment, it’s best to arrive five to 10 minutes early.
  5. Bring an appetite: you may be invited to lunch and dinner. At dinner, Taiwanese beer and liquor will be served. A meal is where relationships are established and business may be discussed.
  6. Dress code: Taiwan’s uniform is the business suit — no business casual look. (You can have a suit custom made for US$400.)
  7. Build in a buffer: Taiwanese business-people will expect to negotiate prices so start a little higher to build in a buffer.

Travel tips

  1. Comfortable climate: Taiwan has no real winter. In January and February, the temperature averages between 10 C and 15 C, but because it’s damp, it feels cooler. In March through April and October through December, temperatures hover between 15 C and 20 C, while from May to September, temperatures vary from 25 C to 35 C.
  2. Universal language: most can speak English well enough to help you. Taxi drivers are the exception. Ask your concierge to write (in Mandarin) where you’re going to show the cab driver, and carry hotel cards for the return trip.
  3. Gratuitous gratuities: restaurant bills include a service charge so no tip is necessary. Don’t tip taxi drivers but tip your bellman.
  4. Getting around: most of the country’s centres are connected by high-speed trains, which are clean and inexpensive (no more than US$50 for a crosscountry ride).

Facts for investors

  1. Taipei City is the business capital. Hsinchu, Taichung and Tainan are technology hubs.
  2. Taiwan is 16th on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index for 2013.