1992 / 10月
Chang Chung-fang /photos courtesy of Diago Chiu /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
In the 365 days of a year, over 10,000 international trade shows are held all over the world. Attracting international industrialists and buyers so that a show stands out in the crowd is the great hope of all the sponsoring organizations.
The biennial Taipei International Fair has been characterized as the best place to expand trade and develop markets.
The third Taipei International Fair was over at the end of August. This is the largest of the nation's trade shows, designed to display the general commercial products of all of the world's developing countries. Although it has only been held three times since its first show in 1988, it has already acquired quite a name for itself internationally.
Friends from afar: This time more than 1,600 companies from 64 countries on five continents participated, a growth of 36.2 percent over the previous exhibition. The delegations of the participating countries are also growing: 125 people came from Vietnam, 76 from Greece and 60 from Mexico. The participation of such Eastern European countries as Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and the three small Baltic states also made the fair special. Even Ethiopia of Africa and Yemen of the Middle East sent delegations.
And this increase occurred despite a decision by the fair's sponsor, the China External Trade Development Council (CETRA), to collect fees (such as location fees and equipment fees) for services that had previously been free. "You can't get a free lunch anywhere," says CETRA's secretary general Liu Ting-tsu. First of all, the exhibition has already made a name for itself, he analyzes, so people won't be turned off by reasonable fees. Secondly, participants think that if the sponsoring organization dares to charge a fee, it must do a good job of putting on the fair. "And fees are charged in the hope that the participants, because they have to pay fees, will be more deliberate in their preparations and raise the quality of the fair," he explains.
With the single purpose of promoting the development of the developing countries, the Taipei International Fair, which helps these countries expand their markets, is quite special among all the large and small international shows put on around the world. Currently, only the Berlin Import Fair resembles the Taipei International Fair in its basic nature.
Tsai Feng-ming, who has served for five straight years as the head of the Taiwan delegation to the Berlin Import Fair and who served as trip coordinator this last year as well, points out that Taiwan has been sending delegations to the Berlin Import Fair for 29 years--ever since its second year. "It could be said that we have been participating longer at Berlin than at any of the other fairs to which we go to expand our markets." The Berlin Fair is huge: Over l,000 manufacturers from 70 to 80 countries can be found in its ten halls. And over 90 percent of the manufacturers that attend the Taipei International Fair also attend the Berlin Import Fair. The two fairs are really much alike.
It's trade and exchange: The size and history of the Berlin Import Fair well exceed the R.O.C.'s Taipei International Fair, and while the German fair purports to be designed for developing countries, advanced countries such as the United States and Japan still attend. In the R.O.C. fair, however, only developing countries are allowed to participate.
"Many developing countries believe that the Taipei International Fair does a better job of meeting their needs because our level of development is closer to theirs," explains Liu Ting-tsu. "As far as they are concerned, the level of the German market is too high."
What's more, the Berlin Import Fair only allows buyers into the grounds--it's all so very professional. The R.O.C. exhibition, on the other hand, allows entry to the general public. It's closer in nature to an exposition like World Expo.
"R.O.C. citizens previously had next to no knowledge of many of the participating countries with which the R.O.C. had never had any contact -- like Ethiopia, Ukraine and Latvia. Now they can take advantage of this opportunity to look at the people and the products of these nations and add to their understanding," says Liu. This is an excellent educational opportunity.
Besides their similarities, the Berlin Import Fair and Taipei International Fair are also notable for their origins.
More for foreign relations than economics? Tsai Feng-ming points out that when the two Germanies were frozen in the Cold War, West Berlin was isolated within East Germany. Even though the West German government gave special treatment to the residents of West Berlin-- such as tax breaks, subsidized rents and draft exemptions--it was still unable to stem the flow of those leaving the city for other West German cities.
Since 1962 (the second year of the Berlin Wall), West Berlin has commissioned AMK of Berlin, which is partly government owned, to put on a Berlin Import Fair. It was thought that the fair would attract Third World countries to come and make inroads into the European market while also stimulating the West Berlin economy through the money spent on housing and consumer goods.
At the time, Berlin was an isolated district, and Taiwan is today a lonely island. And for this reason, some people hold that the R.O.C. puts on the Taipei International Fair more for foreign relations than economics.
"It's not really like that," says Liu Ting-tsu. "We have no doubt helped some countries with less developed economies than ours to share in our country's economic experience and markets. And it's also matched our needs."
Because we need natural resources and most of the developing countries participating in the fair have them in abundance, we make good partners. By going through a fair of this kind, a country can extend its trading tentacles to the far stretches of the world. We do, of course, still need friends. At a time when we are greatly in need of international support, we can strengthen de facto ties with many nations with which we lack formal diplomatic relations.
A good report card for trade: While holding the Taipei International Fair hasn't brought any palpable achievements in foreign relations, the fair has made clear achievements in the realm of economics and trade. Take Turkey as an example. The R.O.C. established a trade office in Turkey shortly after contact at the first fair, and trade between the two nations has since increased three fold. After the second fair, the R. O. C. established trade offices in Egypt, Iran and Nigeria, advancing its trading relations with those nations.
As for this year's fair, business made at the fair or following it up amounted to as much as US$116 million, and developing countries bought as much as US$6 million in whole-plant exports and machinery from R.O.C. firms.
And after the recent fair, just like after its two predecessors, participating countries like Pakistan and Paraguay have taken a good look at the potential of the Taiwan market, rushing in one after another to set up offices. Many companies are thinking that they can use Taiwan as a spring-board for marketing their products in Asia and are scrambling to find agents.
Besides strengthening the economic ties between the R.O.C. and each of the participating nations, the fair also functions to promote trading opportunities between the foreign participants.
Liu Ta-chun, the assistant head of the development office at CETRA, points out that at this year's fair, the "Trading Opportunity Service Station" served as "a port of transfer" for exporting Pakistan's cotton to Saudi Arabia.
Waiting for 1994: As for the future, CETRA has decided to hold the 1994 fair at the same time the World Trade Center puts on its big conference. At that time, some 1-2,000 representatives of over 200 trading centers from around the world will be in town, mostly from the developed nations of Europe and America. Liu Ting-tsu points out that coordinating this meeting with the fair will provide even more trading opportunities, and it is hoped that Taiwan will be able to grab at the opportunity to become a trading center within Asia.
The two Germanies have united, and the Berlin Import Fair will be held for the last time in 2000. At that time, the Taipei International Fair will become even more important for developing countries.
The Taipei International Fair resembles a small scale World Expo. By providing a chance to see different kinds of people and products, the fair can broaden one's understanding of the world.
Being moved isn't as good as being moved to action. At the Taipei International Fair this year, the public didn't face the problem of "look but don't buy."
Coming from countries with which R.O.C. had no previous contact, the Eastern European delegations attracted great attention.
From raw materials and handicrafts, to industrial goods and food product s, the cornucopia of goods provided a feast for the eyes.
Designed to share with other nations the R.O.C.'s expertise in whole plant technology, the R.O.C. booth was one of this fair's special features.