Pharmaceuticals and biotech a backdrop to China-Taiwan economic talks

SINGAPORE--Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology per se are not officially on the agenda, but both industries could be affected by the semi-annual meeting of the Cross-strait Economic Cooperation Committee set for Jan. 29 in Taipei. Taiwan biotechs meet a week later.

Taiwan drugmakers have sought for a long time to have greater access to China's market, but have had problems with the mainland's customs and investment restrictions, let alone its slow regulatory procedure. Customs and industrial cooperation happens to be one of the main points of discussion at this week's meeting.

Since the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek fled 100 miles across the Formosa Strait to the island later named Taiwan after World War II, the two countries have had an odd and contentious relationship. The mainland China government formed by Mao Tse-tung still recognizes Taiwan as part of China proper and gets miffed if any other government treats Taiwan as if it were a standalone country.

Operating under two different and often-conflicting government systems, Taiwan has out-developed mainland China in many ways, including its biotech industry. The industry has its own organization, BiotechEast, which is a media partner at the third annual Biologics World Taiwan Feb. 4 and 5 in Taipei and expects to attract industry leaders from 12 countries. The event is hosted by IMAPAC out of Singapore.

The local industry promotes itself as the stepping stone into China and emerging markets. It also sees the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2010 that set up the ECC holding its semi-annual meeting this week as the opportunity to establish Taiwan's biotech industry as a gateway to the mainland.

These types of summit-level trade talks move like molasses, however, so the two countries have been at the business of establishing a framework and forming committees and other panels, including a pharmaceutical subgroup, for four years now. Thus, no breakthroughs in the drug area are expected at this week's meetings.

Between the upcoming meeting and the previous one in Beijing in August, industries in the two countries managed to sign 31 agreements memoranda of understanding during December's two-day Cross-Strait CEO Summit. Several involved biotech and healthcare deals.

Wang Yu-chi

None of the meetings between the two countries has led yet to an abatement of their hostile attitudes toward each other. As Wang Yu-chi, the head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), said in late December, the two have an official understanding that there is only one China, the one headquartered in Beijing.

But, Wang added that each side and presumably other nations are free to interpret for themselves what "one China" means. Meanwhile, they expect to keep chipping away at the trade obstacles that separate them across the strait.

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Editor's Note: The Biologics World Taiwan conference is organized by Singapore-based IMAPAC and BioTechEast is a media partner.