Looking South Episode #30 – Infrastructure Development

In this episode of Looking South on ICRT, Eric Gau chats with Timur Bitokov with CECI Engineering Consultants about the New Southbound Policy’s goal of helping partner countries build up their infrastructure.

Eric Gau: Good morning everyone. I’m Eric Gau, and welcome to Looking South, here on ICRT. In this program, we look at varying aspects of the Taiwan government’s New Southbound Policy. In today’s episode, we are speaking with Mr. Timur Bitokov with CECI Engineering Consultants about efforts to develop infrastructure in New Southbound Policy target countries. Mr. Bitokov, welcome to the program.
Timur Bitokov: Thanks for having me.
Eric: Could you explain to us why the government of Taiwan is interested in infrastructure development in New Southbound Policy target countries?
Timur: Geographically, Taiwan is right at the heart of Asia, and having stronger, more engaged ties with your regional neighbors, with more positive involvement at various levels, is always a wise strategic choice. And if you simply look at the economics of this; these countries have some of the strongest economic and population growth rates globally, and are expected to continue in the future. They are basically expected to become one of the global development engines in the future. The region has demonstrated robust sustained growth. And according to World Bank estimates, Indonesia for example has been developing at about 5% and will continue at over 5% in the next few years. So simply speaking, this presents a wealth of business opportunities for companies and opportunities for improving economic and trade performance for the country as a whole and the government. Why infrastructure? Infrastructure is a crucially important sector for any country. It provides ample ground for public and private sector engagement for working together on issues that are important for everyone, such as economic development, social development, improving living standards and conditions, disaster mitigation, etc. Very importantly, Taiwan has quite a lot of experience in building infrastructure of very high quality with cost-effective and environmentally-friendly methods and technologies. In terms of their natural conditions and cultures, many of the NSP target countries are quite similar to Taiwan, so Taiwan again has much to offer in this department. For example, our company, CECI, has been working in Taiwan for about 50 years, building highways and freeways and MRT systems, and airports, ports, so basically everything that benefits the people and leads to improvements in living standards and quite honestly has made Taiwan the advanced nation it is today. So this is why Taiwan is very willing to bring its experience and share it with NSP target countries.
Eric: This helps the countries themselves, but what kind of benefits does this bring for Taiwan, and the local businesses here?
Timur: For Taiwan, frankly, it’s about economic growth and promotion of bilateral ties and trade, opening new markets, and making Taiwan even more completive globally. At the same time, it presents great opportunities for companies working in those countries to learn from each other. For example, one of CECI’s recent projects in Malaysia, we’re working on an MRT, and we’ve been working with some major international companies on that project and we’ve been able to learn quite a few new exciting things, participate in technology and know-how sharing and transfer and exchanges. So we’re learning from each other, and benefiting each other in the process. For Taiwan businesses, it’s also about the opportunity to globalize, to expand further into these new fast-growing markets, to find local partners in those countries. What it brings, ultimately, is economic growth and trade, and Taiwanese ideas, Taiwanese services and products can be successfully introduced to those markets. Taiwan is quite strong in smart infrastructure technologies, in traffic management technologies, in information and communications. So all these things can be exported and shared with those countries. Equally important is our common development of technology. Because if you look at it there’s a sort of positive chain reaction, where one country implements a certain technology, and other countries can look at that, and it leads to further proliferation of that technology, so that people in other countries can also enjoy the benefits of adoption and implementation of that technology. An example of that would be mass rapid transit systems, which are spreading in various cities around the region, and in a very significant way ease traffic congestion problems and make people’s lives better in those cities. These are all the factors, all the benefits that are brought by this policy for Taiwan and Taiwanese companies.
Eric: Speaking of that, what measures has the government put in place as part of the New Southbound Policy to stimulate local companies’ participation in infrastructure development projects in other countries?
Timur: First I should mention that the government is providing grants for engineering companies and engineering consulting companies to establish new branch offices and subsidiaries in the NSP target countries. CECI has already seen some of the benefits of these measures; we have established a new subsidiary in Malaysia, and won one of the Kuala Lumpur MRT phase 2 tenders. Second, Taiwan External Trade and Development Council, TAITRA, provides financial support for participation in international tenders and at the same time bring in potential buyers and investors to Taiwan for meetings with Taiwanese prospective partners. And of course we have all heard about the US$3.5 billion fund that has been designated to help Taiwanese firms undertake infrastructure projects in the NSP target countries. Certainly much of this is about creating the so-called ODA, Official Development Assistance, mechanisms, which will help Taiwanese companies get more involved with NSP target countries. And of course, a number of government agencies, I should mention TAITRA, I should mention the Ministry of Economic Affairs, they have been working to organize various events aimed to coordinate and provide advice on how to enter those markets. And they have been setting up various mechanisms to facilitate working in those countries. These are the measures that the government has been putting in place so far.
Eric: What effects have these measures had so far, and how are they going to develop in the future?
Timur: Many of the NSP target countries quite honestly before this did not have much knowledge of Taiwan’s infrastructure capabilities. But now that this policy is in place, that has been changing, and Taiwan is becoming more and more widely known, it’s being put on the map here. And Taiwan companies are successfully entering the markets. Our company, CECI, has a number of projects in those countries, an MRT project in Malaysia would be a good example. Another example would be one of our projects in Indonesia, it’s a toll-road project. We’ve been working with TAITRA, with one of their invitation projects, where they invite potential buyers from the region to come to Taiwan to discuss potential business opportunities. There was also a visit recently organized by the Overseas Community Affairs Council where they brought quite a big delegation of infrastructure company leaders from NSP target countries to meet with CECI and discuss future cooperation potential. We are already seeing the benefits of these policies, and hopefully they will be developing further in the future and will bring even more benefits for companies.
Eric: And finally, before we go, do you have any suggestions for what the government’s next steps should be as they continue pursuing this policy?
Timur: I think that further streamlining the procedures and legislation for providing financial assistance and exchange would be one of those things, and possibly some sort of single-window framework for faster and more efficient process would be good also. Again, developing the ODA mechanisms would allow Taiwanese companies to be engaged in more projects in those countries. Another one would be to promote more projects where companies that are engaged in the early stages of the project, for example feasibility stages and planning, can have access to later stages of the same stages of the same project, such as design and construction supervision for example. CECI has been involved in a number of early-stage projects from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, and we would like of course would to be further involved in the later stages of these projects. And at the end of the day, this US$3.5 billion ODA fund is a one-time package, it cannot be a long-term sustainable solution. What we need ideally is for this to become some sort of annual budget of that scale that is available for companies to be engaged in infrastructure projects in those countries. Better mechanisms for academic exchanges, for students from those NSP target countries to come to Taiwan to study engineering here, to have more opportunities like internships and training courses, that should also be constantly developed I think, so that these students can return to their countries and help us get more involved and help us get more projects in those countries so that Taiwan is known, so that Taiwan’s capabilities are known in those countries. These are basically the suggestions, though of course the government is working very hard to implement this policy, and it’s good that we’re already seeing the benefits of this.
Eric: We’ve been chatting with Mr. Timur Bitokov, from CECI Engineering Consultants. Mr. Biktokov, thank you so much for joining me on the air today.
Timur: Thanks for having me.
Eric: And that’s it for this week’s instalment of Looking South here on ICRT. I’m Eric Gau, and thank you all for tuning in.

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