Protectionism is killing Taiwan’s competitiveness

13 Bottom - A visitor looks at ASUS computer screens at the Computex trade show in Taipei

Tom Pu-chih Hsieh

Le Cordon Bleu and Taiwan’s National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism (NKUHT) have been trying to set up a branch of the famous French cooking school in Taiwan since 2011. However, due to protectionism sentiment and bureaucracy on the island, the French chefs cannot show Taiwanese students how to cook and instead can only teach the French language in their classes.
Regardless of the investment in buildings, cooking equipment and time and energy the schools have spent over the years, what is really lost is the chance for local young talents to appreciate the skill of world class chefs without actually going abroad. They could have stayed in their hometown and sharpened their skills as great chefs much more easily. They could have saved half the tuition fees and costs of living by learning in Taiwan rather than in France.
The chance has been deprived by bureaucrats who dare not to take the responsibility to bring the world to our youngsters, deprived by bureaucrats who are afraid of being accused by conservatives of opening another door allowing foreigners to grab more jobs from local workers.
How many jobs can be taken from the hands of local people in this case? How many Taiwanese could teach real Le Cordon Bleu skills in Taiwan? Few, I believe. If a case as obvious as this cannot get the green light from the government, how many other cases were stopped by idle officials?
Foreign language teaching is only one of the elements necessary for a country to be internationalized. If young Taiwanese people cannot learn skills and concepts from international professionals, how can they compete with other people in the world in the future?
Government officials have vowed for years to help Taiwan connect with the world but they have bowed their heads every time politicians have asked them to save more jobs for local people by blocking foreigners from working on the island.
There is always a bright side and a downside to everything. Allowing foreign workers into a country may sacrifice some job opportunities for local people. On the other hand, it will also create new opportunities for local talents through the new ideas and skills that foreigners can bring in. If Taiwan wants to maintain its competitiveness, it must open its arms to the world.
Protectionism doesn’t mean blocking the world outside completely. Protectionism is not always the best way for a country to look after the benefits for its people. On the contrary, in the age of the global village, protectionism can actually hurt a country’s competitiveness. Look at what had happened to the Qing Dynasty!
Supporters of protectionism must come up with a plan that helps the people to be protected to become stronger and more
independent in the future. If a country needs to protect a certain area of its industry, it must have a goal for improving it within a
certain number of years so that when the protective measures are removed, the protected sector can grow by itself.
Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) is mainly supported by the electronics industry, but it has become weaker in recent years due to the rise of the red supply chain. Taiwan must maintain its creativity in all walks of life in order to survive in the world.
To do that, it is essential for young locals to absorb new ideas and skills from foreigners worldwide.
Blocking international professionals from entering the country is never a solution; on the contrary, it could kill Taiwan’s competitiveness.

Tom Pu-chih Hsieh is a columnist with Deutsche Presse Agentur

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