Sim­ply the Best

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

By Michael Walker

Not so long ago, the words “Made in Tai­wan” were al­most syn­ony­mous with “cheap, in­fe­rior, and bound to break” but not any more. These three words il­lus­trate the eco­nomic and so­cial mir­a­cle that has trans­formed what the Tai­wanese mod­estly call “this small is­land” into an Asian pow­er­house. Even Hol­ly­wood, or per­haps it is more ac­cu­rate to say the Film In­dus­try, has rec­og­nized Tai­wan's role in global man­u­fac­tur­ing; in the first ‘Toy Story' movie, Buzz Lightyear sees the words "Made in Tai­wan" stamped on his wrist­band and re­al­izes that he is noth­ing more than a toy, but at least a toy pro­duced by one of the world's lead­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers of qual­ity goods.

It can be ar­gued cred­i­bly that the rise of "Made in Tai­wan" started in the 1960s when The Four Asian Tigers: Tai­wan, South Korea, Sin­ga­pore and Hong Kong emerged to be­come the first so-called ‘un­de­vel­oped' coun­tries to forge their own path to pros­per­ity. Tai­wan's growth and suc­cess are in­ex­tri­ca­bly tied to the phrase "Made in Tai­wan" de­spite its less than promis­ing be­gin­nings be­cause, truth be told, it was ex­ports that ini­tially fu­elled and still do fuel Tai­wan's and South Korea's eco­nomic growth.

Sin­ga­pore and Hong Kong mean­while, tiny is­lands much smaller than Tai­wan and the Korean Penin­su­lar, dis­cov­ered their keys to suc­cess in of­fer­ing af­ford­ably priced port fa­cil­i­ties and vi­brant fi­nan­cial cen­tres, something that Saint Lu­cia might con­sider.

Some­what un­ex­pect­edly, Tai­wan's ini­tial devel­op­ment in the 1960s was not dis­sim­i­lar to what has hap­pened re­cently in Main­land China, al­beit on a much smaller scale. Where Tai­wan suc­ceeded, how­ever, China might fail due, quite sim­ply, to the lat­ter's un­fath­omable size. The suc­cess of Main­land China is tar­nished by the dam­ag­ing in­equal­ity it cre­ates be­tween its re­gions; the 21st cen­tury thrives along the coastal ar­eas while the in­te­rior strug­gles on in a world that dis­ap­peared cen­turies ago.

Be­fore to­day's mas­sive growth and suc­cess, Tai­wan fol­lowed a pol­icy of im­port sub­sti­tu­tion, a pol­icy whereby a coun­try tries to de­velop lo­cally the prod­ucts that it im­ports in or­der to save cash on pur­chases from abroad. This idea of im­port sub­sti­tu­tion is no stranger to many Saint Lu­cians. How of­ten have we heard cries and com­plaints about ex­pen­sive im­ports of fruit and veg­eta­bles? Who in his right mind would pre­fer beau­ti­ful but taste­less im­ported toma­toes over their small, sweet, de­li­cious, maybe not so pretty, lo­cally grown home­grown cousins? Or­anges from Florida, pineap­ples from Cal­i­for­nia, even man­goes, let­tuce, car­rots and cu­cum­bers from LKW (Lord Knows Where); I ask you: What is the world com­ing to when this Lu­cian Gar­den of Eden abound­ing with ev­ery fruit and temp­ta­tion un­der the sun can­not pro­vide its peo­ple with suc­cu­lent, nour­ish­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles from its own farms?

How­ever, while im­port sub­sti­tu­tion is an ex­cel­lent means of lim­it­ing ex­penses, it does not cre­ate wealth from for­eign sales. Some­where along the way, Tai­wan de­cided to shift her econ­omy from im­port sub­sti­tu­tion to an all-out ex­port-driven frenzy. The prob­lem was, as they soon dis­cov­ered, they had no prod­ucts that would at­tract the world's at­ten­tion. So what did they do? They scoured global mar­kets and found ways to cre­ate things that western­ers wanted, but on the cheap, such as tex­tiles, cloth­ing, knick-knacks and nov­el­ties, goods that Tai­wan more or less al­ready had the ca­pac­ity to make, that re­quired min­i­mal in­vest­ment. Quite rapidly, Tai­wan pur­pose­fully built up her do­mes­tic in­fra­struc­ture to cre­ate easy ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, in­vested in the nec­es­sary cap­i­tal and started brand­ing with "Made in Tai­wan" all kinds of prod­ucts that would even­tu­ally end up in the hands of western con­sumers.

As the econ­omy grew, the pop­u­la­tion be­came more ed­u­cated; spe­cial­ized tech­nol­ogy be­came the dom­i­nant ex­port, and Tai­wanese prod­ucts spread through­out the world. Thanks to Tai­wan's wealth of pre­vi­ously in­ef­fi­ciently used labour, the is­land was able to pro­duce the same prod­ucts that western coun­tries pro­duced and de­sired, but far more cheaply. But again, as with China to­day, the fear was that Tai­wan would un­der­cut mil­lions of Western jobs be­cause in­vestors were ditch­ing their home­land for coun­tries with cheap labour. In fact, these fears were un­founded and to­day “Made in Tai­wan” has be­come a watch­word, a sym­bol for cut­ting edge, in­no­va­tive, qual­ity elec­tronic goods and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion tools. Yet de­spite all this suc­cess, any Saint Lu­cian vis­it­ing the coun­try can­not fail to be im­pressed by how cheap and af­ford­able ev­ery­thing is com­pared to the cost of liv­ing in Saint Lu­cia.

Tiny Tai­wan did not al­low it­self to be over­awed by is gi­gan­tic main­land neigh­bour. She used her own in­nate strengths and re­sources. Saint Lu­cia, too, is tiny but she too has her own unique strengths and qual­i­ties; she just has to prove to the world that she is “Sim­ply the Best, Bet­ter than all the Rest”.

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