When a Taiwan textile official tried to see a European businessman recently, he got a quick, secret meeting a Brussels hotel lobby. "Trade with Europe has not gone as we hoped," states Charles L. Yeo of Taiwan's Euro-asia Trade Organization.
Isolated diplomatically as most countries try to court trade with mainland China --which still considers the island nation part of the People's Republic -- Taiwan has been left bitter but still determined by its repeated triles since the mid-1970s to woo business in Europe. While Europe's trade with Taiwan is growing faster than with the mailand, a fear of annoying Peking has kept European negoti ators working at a level of nod-and-wink dealings with Taiwan officials.
"We spend most of our time finding ways around all the restrictions set up against us by the European Community," Mr. Yeo says.
These include high duties on such exports as wooden louvered doors into Britain or umbrellas into France. Taiwan was angry in 1978 when the EC left it out of a textile agreement with other developing nations, including close competitors Hong Kong and South Korea.
Particularly poignant was the case of canned mushrooms. When the EC gave its quota to the mainland last year, Taiwan's mushroom trade dropped from 25,000 to 3,500 tons.
Still, despite the setbacks, Taiwan's two-way business with Europe has expanded to $5 billion from $300 million just 10 years ago.
Ironically, the lack of dimplomatic recognition by Western European nations has pushed the anticommunist Taiwan into trade with Eastern europe -- $60 million worth in 1980.
A $3 billion trade deficit with Japan and a $2 billion surplus with the United States has made Taiwan feel slightly skeewed in its global economic balance. It wants to enlarge its trade egg-basket by beefing up trade with the 250 million high-income consumers of Europe.
With West Germany and Britain accounting for nearly half, Taiwan's trade with Europe accounted for 12.6 percent of the island nation's exports and imports in 1980.Thus Europe ranks fourth behind asia, North America, and the Middle East in business ties with Taiwan.
While the country's recent purchases of three French airbuses and two Dutch submarine make it appear that European trade relations may be hunky-dory, officials note only a 35 percent increase in exports last year (not discounting inflation).
In comparison, the five nations of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines , and Indonesia (ASEAN) increase exports to the EC by 82 percent.
Warns Mr. Yeo: "Gradually, more and more European companies will be disillusioned with trade with the mainland," as recent pullbacks on mainland industrialization confirm.
What gives Taiwan officials hope are more European trade representatives setting up offices in Taipei and the rising the number of European bank branches opening here (five so far). European products from 13 nations were shown in a Taipei exhibit of 250 companies this month.
Of course, Part of the problem is that the Taiwan market may not be all that attractive to European sellers. "The average Taiwanese is not wealthy enough to buy the expensive European consumer goods," Mr. Yeo says.