DUSSELDORF, GERMANY—Although key export markets still suffer from ``Asian flu,'' Taiwanese machine suppliers are holding their own, according to the China External Trade Development Council.
In 1997, Taiwan's exports of plastics and rubber machinery fell 12 percent from 1996. This year, CETRA thinks the machinery sector will drop another 10 percent, said Foster Lin, market development manager of the council's capital goods section.
The important injection molding machinery sector bucked the trend, gaining 8 percent to $223 million in 1997, from $207 million the year before.
Next to its sickly neighbors, Taiwan's economy is relatively strong, Lin said in an interview during K'98. Its currency, the Taiwan dollar, did not match the plunge of other countries.
The nation has many small, fleet-footed companies. More than 200 manufacturers of plastics and rubber machines call Taiwan home. About 70 of those firms exhibited in Dusseldorf.
Even though Taiwan is in fairly good shape, some key Asian markets are not. Shipments to three of its four export countries — China, Thailand and Malaysia — all declined in 1997. Indonesia improved.
Exports to China, the destination for about half of all Taiwanese exports, fell 18 percent in 1997.
Especially painful was the fall of Thailand. The 40 percent plunge of Thailand's baht sent machinery demand in a free fall. Thailand dropped from second place on Taiwan's export list, behind China, down to fourth.
What can Taiwan's manufacturers do? Improve quality, become world-class companies and reduce the dependence on Asian customers, Lin said.
Taiwan remains an export powerhouse. The island exported $657 million worth of plastics and rubber equipment in 1997 — more than three-quarters of its total output of $850 million. Taiwan is the world's fifth-largest plastics equipment supplier, behind Japan, Germany, Italy and the United States.
Lin said Taiwan producers have made inroads in the U.S. market. Now they want to sell in Europe. Rather than trying for direct sales, Taiwanese exhibitors in Dusseldorf were looking for joint ventures with European companies, he said.
``In the U.S., we have brand-name recognition. That's not true in Europe,'' Lin said.