The influence of China’s economy continues to spread. But China’s neighbors are facing new issues as they fight to stay competitive.
Taiwan’s economy has been hit hard in recent years. But some businesses there are finding a way to develop specialized markets and succeed, even with China so nearby.
Hou Chau-pai’s family has grown edamame, or hairy green soybeans, in southern Taiwan for many years. Fierce competition from China at one time cut Taiwan’s exports of the tasty bean to Japan in half. But now, Taiwan has regained its position as the leading supplier. Mr. Hou says it is difficult to compete with China. But Taiwan’s neighbor has a blind spot. In other words, the Chinese economy makes more of some products than others.
Mr. Hou said that many people in China say all the country has to do is meet demand at home. But, he added, “Less thought is given to opening up new channels or markets or improving the quality of products because few see agriculture as an investment opportunity in China.”
In Taiwan, government support and efforts to use machinery to increase crop production have been important. So have efforts by researchers to create new versions of the bean.
Chou Kuo-lung is a government researcher with Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture. He says innovation and new ideas have kept Taiwan’s edamame growers from failing.
He told VOA that, “We’re not afraid of competing with China. What we’re afraid of the most is that we don’t progress and get stuck in a rut.”
Agriculture is not the only industry in which Taiwanese businesses are using innovation to create specialized, or niche, markets. The companies are also avoiding competition in highly traditional, standardized products - an area where China can do better.
Liang Kuo-Yuan is with the Yuanta-Polaris Research Institute. He says Taiwan’s niche markets should center on products that are not made in huge numbers but diversified and customizable.
One example of this kind of product is Gogoro, a smart electric scooter. Former HTC mobile phone officials recently demonstrated the scooters in public for the first time. The motorized device shows some of the manufacturing and high-technology know-how that Taiwan is known for. The scooters are different from competing models because the power supplies can be exchanged at charging stations.
Local governments are offering financial assistance to those who purchase the bikes. The company hopes to market the idea in other countries.
I’m Mario Ritter.
VOA’s Bill Ide wrote this story during a visit to Taipei. Mario Ritter adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
blind spot – n. an area around a vehicle that the driver cannot see; ignoring something, partly because it is difficult or unpleasant
opportunity – n. a time or situation in which something can be done
innovation - n. a new device, idea or method
rut – n. a custom or fixed action that gets repeated again and again
niche – n. when a business’s products or services can succeed by being sold to a particular kind or group of people
diversified – adj. to produce or sell more kinds of products; to increase the variety of goods or services produced or offered
customizable – adj. about to customized; able to be changed to meet the needs or requirements of a person, group or company
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