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9. Short Debate: Wales in the World—Developing Wales's International Links

June 14, 2017

7 speeches by…

  • Elin Jones
  • Jeremy Miles
  • David Rees
  • Joyce Watson
  • Ann Jones
  • Jane Hutt

Elin Jones

That brings us to our next item on the agenda, the short debate. If Members could leave the Chamber quietly, I will call the short debate in the name of Jeremy Miles. I call on Jeremy Miles to speak to the topic he has chosen—Jeremy Miles.

Jeremy Miles

Diolch, Llywydd. Today, in the Senedd, we commemorated the thirty-fifth anniversary of the end of the Falklands war, in which many young men went to defend the Falkland islands from attack by Argentina, and many lost their lives. Wales has played its part on the world stage in many ways, not least among them the contribution of our young people to our armed forces. This debate today is on Wales’s role in the world and it’s, in several ways, an attempt to describe the wider range of ways that Wales does play a constructive and beneficial role on the international stage. I am pleased to have this opportunity to put forward this debate, and to David Rees, the Chair of the external affairs committee, and Joyce Watson, who will also be contributing to this debate. Argentina has played a significant part in the history of Wales in the world. A little more than a century before the Falklands war, 153 pioneers left the shores of Wales for Patagonia, for the expanses of Chubut. There they formed a community that still, to this day, speaks and identifies as Welsh. The parliament they set up there gave Welsh women the vote in 1867, a full 51 years before their sisters back home achieved that same right. We have exported our progressive Welsh values to the world ever since. When we recently celebrated the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the settlement in Patagonia, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales travelled there, backed by the Welsh Government and the British Council. This kind of cultural exchange and export is at the heart of what must become a global network of Welsh soft power. Whilst our hard power is limited, our enormous artistic, sporting, cultural, and educational assets, world-class in many instances—opera, instrumental, and theatre to name just a few— can, if properly deployed, create significant soft power, which can build bridges to all parts of the world, and through that, attract people to Wales, with their ideas and their ingenuity. We will not fulfil our potential if we do not invest in and harness that soft power intelligently and, critically, if we do not ally the way we deploy and support it closely to our economic policy. This has always been crucially important, but it’s now even more important as we are now leaving the European Union. One of the greatest challenges for us all is to reform that relationship with the European Union. One of the most important statements in years on Wales’s role in the world is contained within the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru White Paper, ‘Securing Wales’ Future’. We must now ensure that the UK Government delivers on the priorities set out in that White Paper. But, whilst our relationship with the single market remains unclear, the uncertainty caused by the process of leaving the European Union will mean that the prospects of attracting new businesses to Wales over the next few years are not particularly good. We do already have significant international investors in Wales and our global co-dependence is incorporated in GE, Tata, Ford, Airbus and others—that, between them, employ thousands of our people. But, we must also set as a target for strengthening our indigenous businesses. Helping Welsh business to access overseas markets must remain a priority. Welsh Government should, in my opinion, set up an industry-led body—we’ll call it ‘Trade Wales’—with Welsh Government backing, but operating independently, and with a clear remit to drive up the capacity of Welsh businesses to sell overseas, including online, providing both an ambassadorial role to overseas buyers, and a smart, mentor-led business support function. In some sectors, this is an urgent priority. More than 90 per cent of Welsh food and drink sector exports are to the EU. New markets must be found as a priority. And the trade deals that bring those new markets to us and that affect the basics of economic life should come to us in this Chamber for approval, so that the particular interests of the Welsh economy are protected. But we must look beyond Europe for our inspiration, and continue to build our relations with other parts of the globe. We should look to the work of the Saltire Fellowship Programme in Scotland, which connects entrepreneurs and executives in Scottish businesses with peers overseas to share global best practice and develop first-hand experience of overseas markets. Why shouldn’t we have an equivalent to that in Wales? Now, we know that anxiety about immigration from Europe lay as one of the main causes behind the decision to leave the European Union, but those of us who argued for keeping our European Union membership must not fall into the trap of believing that the current version of the freedom of movement rules are the only way for us to express our internationalism. Putting our national economic interest—both long term and in all parts of the UK—at the heart of a new migration system is the right thing to do. And yes, why should we not, as Canadian provinces do, have the power to stipulate local migration needs as part of a UK-wide system? But, we should also reflect our internationalism in a commitment to welcome those who are fleeing war and persecution. I encourage the Government, therefore, to take action on the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee to make Wales a first nation of refuge. Let us remember that global migration is not a one-way street. Welsh people have always lived beyond our shores, and we should be proud of our Welsh diaspora. Whilst outreach initiatives such as Global Welsh are to be welcomed, as far as they go, what we really need is a crisp and clear policy statement from the Welsh Government about the aims and purpose of the diaspora policy, how we will map the diaspora, who we can work with to achieve that, the role that Government can play, what Government expects of others, and how it will work with the UK Government to develop and nurture relationships with Welsh people overseas. This is not about soft networking and nostalgia, enjoyable though both those things can be. It’s about how Wales can flourish from the talent, creativity and commitment of all Welsh people, wherever they happen to live. Without an unambiguous strategy and policy framework, we risk failing in that ambition. And yet, this isn’t just about what Government can do. We must also issue a challenge to our Welsh diaspora. Wherever you live, our question must be, ‘What can you do now for Wales?’ But the skills and outlooks that we need to take advantage of our role in the world must, principally, be nurtured here at home, through an outward-looking education system. I applaud the Welsh Government on its international education programme, which is provided by the British Council and assists in giving an international perspective to our pupils. I hope to see this being built on as we develop our schools curriculum. But we also know how far behind we are in the teaching of modern foreign languages, which have been in decline for over a decade, with a reduction of over 44 per cent over the past 15 years in terms of pupils studying those subjects up to A-level. It appears that the steps we’re taking to tackle this have not been working. The demand for modern languages to ensure success in the international economy are increasing, and we won’t be preparing our young people adequately to prosper in a global economy unless we tackle that particular challenge as a matter of urgency. Our universities are part of a global network of research and study that we should be proud of. Over 25,000 international students are studying at our universities here in Wales, each of them prospective ambassadors for Wales when they return to their home nations. Programmes such as Global Wales assist universities in extending their reach, but they must be imbued with a new feeling of responsibility to use those networks, not just to improve their own research and education but also to build the wider Welsh economy and society. Thousands of students have crossed new horizons as a part of the European Union’s Erasmus programmes. Outside the EU, we must ensure these opportunities remain, and not as bilateral deals between universities, but as a multilateral network of mutual exchange opportunities, helping to weave that fabric of international citizenship. As we seek to create a level playing field between academic and vocational education, what is the scale of the Government’s ambition to give apprentices the same opportunity to work and study overseas? There are already good examples for us to build upon, but until we can offer the opportunity of overseas placement to apprentices as widely as we do to students, we will not achieve that parity of esteem, which is one of the core values that we have in our new approach to skills and education. With our values, in all that we do, our activities overseas must reflect the values we cherish at home. We have legislated in this place to be a globally responsible nation. Whether that be through Wales in Africa or through our Under2 Coalition of environmental partnerships, we’ve taken our global citizenship obligations seriously for a small country. But we must also live our values as we trade—as we choose our trading partners and as we choose to describe them. Relationships that we choose to describe as special relationships are hard won and must be based on shared values and not simply mutual commercial gain. So, the ways in which we engage with the rest of the world are varied, complex and connected. It is essential not only that we act to shore up our cultural soft power, support our exporters, build a network of students and researchers and remain engaged and responsible global partners, but in an age of scarce resources and complex challenges, each of the steps that we take must complement and support one another. Those working to extend our cultural links should be able to collaborate with those delivering trade missions. Those working to meet our environmental aims should know what we are doing to extend our educational reach. That requires a co-ordinated ‘Wales in the world’ strategy, which tells us the Welsh Government’s priorities, how it will act, and indeed what the Government seeks in the interests of Wales from the UK Government’s foreign policy—and a strategy that is routinely debated and scrutinised in this Chamber. For most of my working life, prior to being elected, I worked for international businesses, working on projects in the US, in Europe, in Australia, in the far east, as well as here in the UK. The global context was ever present. Since being elected, it struck me how little we bring to bear international context on our discussions in this place. In 2015, the Welsh Government published a good strategy for its engagement with the world, which bears the same name as this debate. It has not featured in any significant way in the proceedings of this institution. So, I welcome the fact that the Government has now convened an international group under the auspices of the office of the First Minister, and I look forward to this Chamber having an opportunity to debate and discuss its work. How we choose to relate to other countries is not a discretionary item. Get it right and we can help our communities; we can help Wales flourish. Get it wrong, and we will be left behind. We are living through an age where turning inwards and circling the wagons is tempting in a world of rapid change. It is up to us, in this place, to make the case for a clear, visible, joined-up external strategy, and to make the case for Wales in the world.

David Rees

Can I thank the Member for Neath for this debate this evening and for offering me a minute of his time? He has talked about Patagonia and our moves across in the 1850s, but can I also remind him of where our values of fairness and social justice have also been expressed? It is with the many Welsh citizens that joined the international brigade in the Spanish civil war, to fight fascism, to fight the extreme right wing, and to ensure that social justice was available to all across the world. I think that what we are trying to say this evening is that that outward-looking aspect of Wales needs to come to the fore now as well. Post Brexit there is an opportunity for us to do that. We are seeing the changes in the European Union relationship. We are seeing the opportunities for Wales to take itself out to the world once more, to sell itself out to the world once more, and to ensure that what we have—the values that we have and the values that we share—is suitable to all the trading agreements that will be in place and will serve our communities well.

Joyce Watson

Thank you, Jeremy, for giving me time to speak in your short debate today. As regional chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians association, I am acutely aware of the value of international partnerships and the benefits that they can and do deliver for all of us. The excellent partnership of the CWPA and the agreed programme of action has helped to deliver progress and change in a number of hugely important areas that include ending violence against women and children, trafficking of human beings and enhancing women’s prospects in the economy. So, it is by working in partnership with countries across the Commonwealth that has allowed us to share our knowledge and our ideas, and also to help to deliver change. At a time when Brexit is looming large on the agenda, partnerships with our friends both within the Commonwealth and also Europe will, I believe, be more crucial than ever they were before.

Ann Jones

Thank you. I call on the Leader of the house to reply to the debate—Jane Hutt.

Jane Hutt

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I would like to thank Jeremy Miles for raising this important topic. I think this is probably the most critical time since devolution in terms of Wales’s international agenda. It’s also good to use the opportunity tonight to welcome the extensive experience that you are bringing to this debate, and indeed, into this Assembly, and to draw attention to the fact that we are probably not fully enabling that experience and that focus—which David Rees also drew attention to—in our proceedings. But, I think it is important, as you say, that we did publish ‘Wales in the World’, the Welsh Government’s international agenda, in 2015. But, what a great—you know, what happenings. What a great deal has happened since then. The EU referendum result and last week’s election showed, of course, the impact of events, and of course, these events have a major impact on our international agenda. I think that when the implications of Brexit are clearer, we will be able to prioritise how we engage in a reshaped European Union and beyond, and take informed decisions about how best to allocate our resources. At that point, we will publish a new international strategy. But, in the meantime, we are continuing with our international engagement on all the fronts that you have referred to, and I will touch on those. Now, more than ever, we need to develop the economy to ensure that Wales continues to prosper. The focus of our international work is clear: to create a more prosperous and sustainable Wales through increased export and investment while increasing Wales's influence and international recognition. I think that's that kind of wider diplomatic, political role that we need to focus on that you've drawn attention to today. We need to continue to promote Wales as a great place to live, study, work, visit and do business. We need to secure the financial position for this generation, our children's generation, and generations to come. Since devolution, the Welsh Government has a good story to tell. Our international reputation around the globe has grown and continues to grow, and where we are known we are no longer regarded as a little backwater with a scarred landscape, as a reminder of days gone by when we had a thriving coal industry; we now have a completely different profile and are better known for our knowledge-based economy, cutting-edge research, excellent higher education sector, a fantastic location to visit, with tourism figures going up and up, and for the excellent quality of our food and produce. In terms of reputation, earlier this month, the eyes of the world were on Wales when over 200 million people from over 200 countries and territories watched the UEFA Champions League finals, the first time that the men's and women's finals have been held in the same city on the same weekend, and 170,000 visitors from across the globe came to Cardiff for these events. And you can't put a price on the value of positive international profile. You've mentioned culture. Culture has a huge part to play in developing profile, helping to develop influential links at all levels. And Wales is rich in culture and heritage, and we need to make that work for us, now becoming known internationally as the home of the Singer of the World competition, which is taking place this week, of Artes Mundi, the largest art prize in the UK and one of the most significant in the world, and of the Dylan Thomas prize, one of the most prestigious awards for young writers. And Wales is also at the forefront in leading the world in several initiatives, such as becoming the world's first Fairtrade Nation, developing a Wales for Africa programme, and introducing the Well-being of future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. And since devolution, we have developed relations with countries and regions such as Ireland and Brittany, where we have clear affinities, all of which have meant developing productive international working relationships and creating opportunities to share best practice. Post Brexit, we’ll be looking to develop new relationships where it makes sense to do so, and I'm also glad that Joyce Watson drew attention to the vibrant work and engagement led by Joyce in particular in terms of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians group and association—and we had a great conference here in Cardiff, which Joyce hosted, only recently, looking at women's entrepreneurship and looking at some really interesting examples here from Wales. But at the heart of our international and economic strategy, it's about how we provide meaningful support for Welsh companies that want to export their goods and services, internationalise their business, increasing the values of exports, and the number of Welsh companies that export—central pillars of our economic strategy. We've got a comprehensive range of support for existing and would-be exporters that is focused on four key areas: inspiring them to start or grow their exports; transferring the knowledge and skills to build their capabilities to export; helping them to connect with potential customers overseas; and supporting visits to overseas markets. So, we assist companies at every stage of their export journey, and we've helped Welsh companies to win new export orders. And last year, we took more than 170 different companies on trade missions and overseas exhibitions to a diverse range of markets. And this year, our programme includes some familiar destinations: India, China, Japan, for example, as well as less familiar markets such as Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea and Iran. And while Wales exports two thirds of its goods to EU countries, this programme emphasises the importance of maintaining and creating trade links with markets outside of Europe. But we're determined to support Welsh exporters as much as we can in a post-Brexit economy—at the front and centre of any message to companies is the statement that Wales is open for business. Companies in Wales have already taken action to respond to the challenges of a post-EU economy, and we're working with more and more companies to support them to export. And I want everyone across Wales and the rest of Europe to understand that, for us, departing the EU in no sense means that Wales will turn its back on Europe; we've always been clear that the Welsh Government respects the decision to leave the European Union, but our White Paper, ‘Securing Wales’ Future’, does provide a comprehensive and credible plan for the negotiations as the UK prepares to exit from the EU. Can I also say again how important is David Rees’s chairing of what is now increasingly the external affairs rather than additional legislation Committee—what an important role that is playing here in the Assembly, and is recognised beyond here in the UK and Europe? Of course, Jeremy Miles is a key member of that committee. I think the role will develop, and is developing substantially, as we move forward. We stand ready to work constructively with the UK Government to secure a deal that protects Welsh businesses, our economy and the future prosperity of Wales. Our young people have not known life outside the European Union, with its free exchange of people and EU-funded programmes. You mentioned Erasmus; in 2015, Erasmus+ in Wales support some 2,600 staff and students in the higher and further education and youth sectors to study, work, volunteer, teach and train in Europe. We must see these opportunities continue after Brexit. Also, you talked about Wales being a welcoming country, benefitting from inward migration, from many parts of the world, including the EU, and migrants in Wales are making a huge contribution to delivering our vital public services and working in our key economic sectors, welcoming thousands of students from all over the world to study here and strengthening our world-class university offering. I think, looking ahead, we need to see that we still need to recruit from both the EU and around the world for jobs where there is a clear need to do so because of a shortage. We want to make those who are already here continue to play their part in making Wales the successful, outward-looking nation that it is. I’m glad you’ve drawn attention again to the outward-looking, welcoming work that’s been done by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on refugees, and we will be debating that again shortly. So, finally I want to mention the fact that, over the past 10 years as a Government we’ve supported and encouraged tens of thousands of people in Wales to get involved and contribute to international development through our Wales for Africa programme. More children are now going to school, thousands of women have been empowered through skills training and some of the poorest families are healthier thanks to the extensive training Welsh health workers have offered as part of that. In conclusion, Brexit and globalisation present both challenges and opportunities for Wales. Working together across the political spectrum with a wide range of partners in Wales, the UK and internationally, we can maximise our footprint across the world and help Wales to become a more prosperous, globally responsible nation.