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The Taiwan External Trade Development Council: Using High-Tech Methods to Help Companies both Large and Small Shine on the International Stage

The Taiwan External Trade Development Council wants to position itself as the e-commerce industry’s strongest ally for overseas expansion and the employment of digital technology—James C.F. Huang

“The digital economy, mobile developments, and e-commerce have become integral parts of our everyday lives. Global developments in IoT, artificial intelligence and big data have completely transformed the way we live and have the potential to revolutionize the development and even the nature of industries in the future.”

Taiwan External Trade Development Council Chairman James C.F. Huang understands the importance of these trends. During his tenure as a diplomat, he realized that it was vital for Taiwan to be part of the present wave of international scientific and technological development, so after his appointment as head of TAITRA, he began working to create a “digital TAITRA” in the belief that the council should broaden the scope of its work from assisting companies with overseas expansion to include assisting companies in moving towards digitalization. To achieve the objectives of this transformation, Huang drew up the Five Trends, Four Strategies Policy.

TAITRA goes digital: Using data analysis and AI technology to help companies expand their trade markets

The five major global information and communications technology trends include data-driven analytics and AI-driven smart services. As 64% of international corporations already use big data analysis technology in their decision-making processes, TAITRA established a data center in 2016 to analyze and use data to help businesses attract a global market. Artificial intelligence, described by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is another important service area for TAITRA. TAITRA uses AI applications to offer export forecasts and 24-hour AI online customer service.

This is just a small part of digital TAITRA’s domain. Huang’s goals are to apply the latest technological advances to help Taiwan’s businesses export goods and services, extend the scope of Taiwan’s existing advantages, and use technology-enabled services to help Taiwan’s businesses compete in the global arena.

Taiwan’s unique advantage: Mobile + e-commerce

Taiwan’s combination of mobile devices and e-commerce businesses gives it a formidable home court advantage in the worldwide trend towards digitalization. According to research organization eMarketer, Taiwan ranks first in mobile phone penetration rates in the Asia-Pacific region, ahead of both Hong Kong and Singapore. Taiwan’s smartphone app market value is high despite its low population; it ranks among the top five countries in Google Play sales. Renowned French digital advertising company Criteo notes that Taiwan has a high rate of smartphone use, and 90% of users use their phones for online shopping, giving it a clear edge in the development of digital commerce.

Taiwan’s e-commerce market joined the Internet boom very early on and has continued to develop vigorously. In 2015, it became a trillion NT dollar industry. Taiwan’s market share is equal to that of the whole of Southeast Asia—whose population of 600 million people is twenty-five times the size of Taiwan’s—and shows great potential for future development.

TAITRA has previously helped numerous industries expand their global presence. In the process, it has become clear that Taiwan’s e-commerce companies already utilize highly developed, advanced business models and services such as product diversity, 24-hour delivery, and multiple payment options. The technological skills of its workforce form a strong foundation. These factors give Taiwan a competitive edge in international cooperative ventures.

Huang believes Taiwan cannot afford to fall behind global trends, and therefore TAITRA will devote itself to supporting Taiwan’s companies in using science and technology to make inroads into the world market.

TAITRA helps e-commerce firms achieve tangible results through training, exhibitions, and forums

According to a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report, a shift from globalization to digital globalization has already taken place.

In other words, the entire world has become more closely intertwined as a result of advancements in digital technology. Many small and medium enterprises have become “micro-multinationals.” They have the same opportunities as large enterprises to directly access the global marketplace and link up with consumers via the Internet and the convenience of e-commerce. As a result, the global economy has undergone important changes.

TAITRA, which has assisted many startups and Taiwanese industries over the years, has noted the strong performance of Taiwan’s mobile and e-commerce companies. This, coupled with scientific and technological advances, has substantially lowered the threshold for entering the international market. TAITRA is therefore helping Taiwan’s companies to make the transition and use the latest technologies to enter the international market.

Under Huang’s leadership, TAITRA has organized numerous activities and tangible, concrete digital services to help small and medium enterprises achieve digital transitions and upgrades, strengthen internal integration, and increase efficiency. These include exhibitions, forums, seminars, and training programs, as well as assistance in establishing online stores and the organization of trade shows. TAITRA also promotes exchanges and collaborations between Taiwanese businesses and other enterprises from around the globe.   

The DATE SUMMIT is an initiative created by TAITRA to help businesses in Taiwan increase their competitiveness and international visibility via digital technologies. DATE SUMMIT is a major international event that provides a platform for world-class speakers in Taiwan and facilitates discussion of all the latest e-economic trends.

What expectations did TAITRA have for the 2017 DATE SUMMIT forum?

DATE SUMMIT 2017 (originally called the Asia eCommerce Forum), was the third year of the TAITRA-organized forum. DATE stands for “Discover Advanced Trends in E-economy.” Huang decided on the name change because the event was expanded to explore global digital economic trends in addition to e-commerce. Huang also wanted to establish a pipeline for businesses in Taiwan to exchange views on digital commerce.

Taiwan’s industries include import/export and trade; finance and insurance; retail; science and technology; e-commerce platforms; and media. All have a stake in understanding the link between their own industries and digital commerce. Huang hopes that DATE SUMMIT will help local businesses learn about the latest trends and outlooks, and will become a premier annual event for local industries and global digital commerce companies.   

This year, TAITRA invited twenty-seven executives form digital economic enterprises in eleven countries to speak at the summit and share their views on the latest trends. The number of attendees was estimated at 1,500. For eleven of the international speakers, it was their first appearance in Taiwan. This year’s event broke numerous records, including the record for the number of countries represented, the number of speakers, and the estimated number of attendees.

The distinguished roster of speakers included executives from tech giants Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook. Speakers making their first appearance in Taiwan represented companies such as Coca Cola, Germany’s Federal Association of eCommerce (BVOH), renowned American market research organization Forrester Research, leading social video gaming platform Twitch, and traffic and navigation app Waze. TAITRA also invited representatives from Israeli venture capital firm Maverick Ventures and bot detection and solution experts Unbotify to visit Taiwan for the first time. It is hoped that this gathering of speakers from different countries, of different nationalities, and from different industries will spark new ideas and inspire local businesses in Taiwan.

In accordance with the government’s New Southbound Policy, Huang has visited India three times and has called on Taiwan’s younger generation to explore possibilities in Southeast Asia. TAITRA therefore invited several well-known up-and-coming Southeast Asian e-commerce platforms, including Singapore’s online auction platform Carousell and cashback reward program ShopBack, Vietnam’s Hotdeal, Malaysia’s Logon, and Thailand’s TV Direct to attend DATE SUMMIT 2017 and give local e-commerce platforms first-hand information about the Southeast Asian e-commerce marketplace.

Huang emphasizes that TAITRA will help both large enterprises and small companies enter the global market

Taiwan has an active venture capital environment and many entrepreneurs. Taiwan ranked sixth out of 132 countries in the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute’s (GEDI) 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Index, and was the only Asian country to make the top 10.

The index touted Taiwan’s sound financial environment, excellent products, and technological innovation capabilities. These factors allow it to respond quickly to markets that demand innovation and change. TAITRA thus invited four Taiwanese e-commerce companies to speak at DATE SUMMIT: EZTABLE, an online restaurant reservation platform that collaborates with over 7,800 restaurants across Asia; KKday, an e-commerce travel platform that offers over 6,000 activities in 270 cities in 50 countries; Kuobrothers Corp., a vertical e-commerce pioneer in Taiwan; and Vpon Big Data Group, a company that analyzes big data and uses it to create targeted ads. TAITRA considers these four companies to be the best representatives of Taiwan’s e-commerce industry and startup strength.  

Huang says the council will simultaneously use push and pull strategies to help Taiwan’s startups shine on the international stage. In one example of a pull strategy, COMPUTEX organized the InnoVEX Special Startup Exhibition in 2016 to serve as a communications platform between Taiwan’s startups and global customers, investors, and manufacturers. This year, 272 startups from 23 countries participated in the exhibition, attracting nearly 15,000 local and international visitors. TAITRA also began organizing the E-Commerce Expo Asia in 2015, inviting executives from the international e-commerce service sector to come to Taiwan and share their experiences with Taiwan’s e-commerce industry.  

One of TAITRA’s push strategies is targeting Southeast Asia’s huge e-commerce market. TAITRA held a Taiwan Expo in the Philippines at the end of September, and will hold another one in Malaysia in November. The expos include a special exhibition zone for e-commerce companies and startups. Exhibitors include PChome, caller ID app Whoscall, and social ticketing platform Accupass. TAITRA will also use online-to-offline commerce (O2O) channels to promote Taiwan’s Internet and entrepreneurial capabilities.   

TAITRA’s goal is to continue the march towards digital technology. It will actively assist both large enterprises and small companies in participating in the global market economy.According to Huang,

“This is TAITRA’s most important task in the digital globalization era.”


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