The Welsh Government’s draft international strategy – a new global vision for Wales?

Published 22/08/2019   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

On 31 July, the Welsh Government published its draft International Strategy for consultation, setting out its priorities and goals in a post-Brexit environment. It has said that the significant shift in the international landscape caused by Brexit means that it is time to set out a new international vision for Wales.

What are the key elements of the draft international strategy?

The consultation on the strategy asks four questions on the Welsh Government’s goals and ambitions, and will close on 23 October. The Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language has stated that the final strategy will need to have sufficient flexibility to respond to whichever Brexit scenario comes to pass.

The draft strategy has three key goals:

  • Raising Wales’ international profile;
  • Increasing exports and inward investment; and
  • Showcasing Wales as a globally responsible nation.

The strategy will seek to capture creativity; harness technology; and set out the Welsh Government’s commitment to sustainability.

As part of its approach, the Welsh Government proposes:

  • Promoting three industries in which it considers Wales is home to ‘centres of excellence’ – compound semiconductors; the creative industries; and cyber security.
  • Working to develop the existing ‘This is Wales’ brand to increase its impact.
  • Initiatives in the education and health sectors to promote Wales as a place to study and work.
  • Increasing global awareness of Wales as a bilingual nation, and encouraging children to learn modern languages.
  • Growing the Welsh economy through increasing exports; prioritising existing markets in Europe and North America and developing new opportunities in the Middle East and Asia; and attracting quality inward investment into Wales.
  • Investing in tourism marketing, securing major events, and promoting Wales’ cultural and sporting reputation to increase Wales’ global profile.
  • Refocussing the ‘Wales for Africa’ programme to concentrate on sustainability, and renaming it the ‘Wales and Africa’ programme.

How does the draft international strategy compare to the recommendations of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee?

In February 2019 the Assembly’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee’s report on Wales’ future relationship with Europe and the World made a number of recommendations on areas for inclusion in the Welsh Government’s international strategy.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government sets out the scale of its ambition for Welsh international engagement and its anticipated timescales for publication of the strategy. In response to the Committee’s report, the Welsh Government accepted the recommendation and stated that it planned to publish the final strategy before summer 2019. Subsequently, the First Minister highlighted that, due to the level of interest in the strategy, there would be a consultation and that the final strategy would be published by the end of 2019.

The Committee also called for key performance indicators to accompany the international strategy. The Welsh Government’s response accepted the recommendation, stating that the strategy would set out key performance indicators, with some measurable high level ambitions. However, in her written statement accompanying the draft international strategy, the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language stated that the current uncertainties surrounding potential Brexit scenarios mean that it is not possible to include targets at this time, and that these will be included in a subsequent delivery plan.

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government reviews its current bilateral relationships to see which can be deepened and extended in the future, in line with strategic priorities. The Government accepted this recommendation, and the draft international strategy proposes that the Welsh Government prioritises relationships with Brittany, the Basque Country and Flanders.

The Committee also recommended that the Welsh Government develops an action plan to engage with the Welsh diaspora, including which countries will be prioritised. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation in principle. In the draft international strategy, it proposes working with the Welsh diaspora and collaborating with partner organisations. In the first year, it will concentrate on the USA, and also on identifying influential Welsh people across the world. The Welsh Government will also map the diaspora across the world, starting with the USA and Japan, and map Welsh international activity to develop a database of links.

What have those in the field called for the strategy to include?

Before the publication of the draft strategy, a number of academics and organisational representatives raised key themes for consideration.

Susie Ventris-Field, Chief Executive of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, called for the international strategy to develop a globally responsible Wales. She stated that the Welsh Government should showcase its globally responsible policies (which is one of the draft strategy’s three goals); should build on commitments to alleviating poverty through the Wales for Africa programme; and that Welsh Government values should underpin the strategy. Annex D to the draft strategy sets these out.

Dr Rachel Minto and Professor Kevin Morgan suggested there is a need for Welsh international engagement to be undertaken in partnership, rather than just by the Welsh Government. They also called for the Welsh Government to boost representation in Brussels, and to ensure that it has sufficient capacity to generate clear benefits from bilateral relationships, in terms of expertise and financial resources.

Dr Elin Royles stated that future arrangements for intergovernmental relations need to be on a statutory footing to ensure that UK Government departments and agencies deliver Welsh expectations. She also highlighted that the challenge for the Welsh Government will be to steer Welsh international relations “through the unchartered territory of a post-Brexit landscape.”

The terms of Brexit and the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be critical to the drafting of the final strategy. The Welsh Government’s response to these events will be key in its delivery. However, it remains to be seen how much clarity on Brexit there will be by the time the final strategy is published.

Article by Gareth Thomas, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales