Trade seen stimulated by 3-year-old Florida-Taiwan pact
By Paola Iuspa
A three-year-old agreement between Florida and Taiwan is beginning to bear fruit, trade officials said.
The pact, between Enterprise Florida and the China External Trade Development, pledges sharing information on local regulations and matching investors with startups or suppliers, said Roberto Chen, director general of the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Miami.
"Many companies from Florida, especially aircraft companies, opened bases in Taiwan to handle their east Asian trading," said Jung Chin Kuo, director of the Taiwan Trade Center in Miami.
Mr. Kuo said most of his efforts have been focused on attracting store chains to Taiwan, a task that demanded months of bargaining and commitments.
"We have been talking to Banana Republic for about a year," Mr. Kuo said last week. "They would like to have their stores in Taiwan. But there are some regulations they need to follow."
Manuel Mencia, senior vice president of international trade & business development for Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency, said the 1997 strategy alliance also placed an emphasis on sponsoring trade missions to both regions.
"We agreed to mutually support each other's efforts on trade missions and with the trade delegations," he said.
Taiwan is one of 12 countries where Enterprise Florida established an office.
Mr. Mencia, who described Taiwan as one of the greatest manufacturing centers in the world, said South Florida is to Taiwan "the transshipment point for their technology and aviation products."
Florida's exports to Taiwan reached about $600 million in 1999 while the state imported from Taiwan about $750 million worth of goods.
Taiwanese companies, Mr. Chen said, see Miami as a business hub.
"For Taiwanese people," he said, "Miami is where you come for business. Orlando is where you go for tourism."
South Florida, Mr. Chen said, is home to about 100 Taiwanese companies.
Many Taiwanese branches in Miami assemble computer parts for PCs to be exported to Latin America. Major Taiwanese companies with branch offices in Miami include Acer Latin America, Senao and DTK, Mr. Chen said.
"It is not surprising since we are the third-largest exporter of Information Technology and other computer related products after the US and Japan," said C.J. Chen with Taipei's economic and cultural representative office in Washington.
C.J. Chen said two-way trading opportunities had slightly increased since the agreement but the "good economy of the US helped.
"Still both sides have to work harder," he said. "For our part, exposure has a lot to do with attracting more American companies to Taiwan. We are 17 hours apart on a nonstop flight. We are remote. But we both have many common interests."
Roberto Chen said small steps were achieved since the agreement and even when they don't add up to a victory, they helped move trade relations forward.
"We went to Tallahassee two years ago and were able to have the State of Florida recognize our Taiwanese driver license," he said. "Florida is the only state that does so. It makes Florida very attractive to Taiwanese people."
Tommy Tonsmeire, president of OEC Freight in Miami and one of the area's biggest Taiwan-based forwarders, said he had noticed an increase of Taiwanese companies doing business in Miami since 1997 when he started his freight company.
"We are seeing a boom in part due to the Asian economic crisis," Mr. Tonsmeire said, whose company transports consumer goods from Taiwan to Miami and Central America. "Taiwan prices are very competitive now compared to America's and it has resulted in a boom of Taiwanese products."
Mr. Tonsmeire said it was the "big influx of various cargo from Taiwan" that drove him to open OEC, a company that buys and sells space on steamship routes.
Senao, in part a manufacturer of long-range telephone equipment, opened an office in Miami before the agreement was signed. But Senao's officials said they were starting to notice a large number of Taiwan-based businesses opening offices here to carry their Latin American operations.
"Miami is our connection with South and Central America," said Jessica Pan, spokeswoman at Senao.
"I see more and more Taiwanese companies coming in," she said. "You focus on Latin America so the economy in Asia doesn't affect us much. Our clients are in Latin America and that's where our profits come from."