On 14 January 2020, the Welsh Government published its new International Strategy, setting out its approach to international engagement and how it plans to increase Wales’ profile and influence in the world.
The External Affairs and Additional Legislation (EAAL) Committee has been closely scrutinising the development of the strategy. The Committee published a report (PDF, 174KB) on the draft international strategy (PDF, 2.51MB) on 12 December 2019. The Welsh Government welcomed (PDF, 445KB) the Committee’s report and accepted all ten recommendations. The Committee questioned the Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan AM on the Government’s response on 10 February. The report will be debated in Plenary on 4 March. For further information about the content of the draft international strategy, see our previous blog from August 2019.
What are the goals and priorities set out in the Welsh Government’s international strategy?
The stated purpose of the strategy is to:
…deliver international collaboration and to project Wales as a globally responsible nation, both of which will help to make us [Wales] more competitive and well known on the global stage.
The three core priorities set out by the Welsh Government for the next five years are:
- raising Wales’ international profile;
- grow the economy by increasing exports and inward investment; and
- establish Wales as a globally responsible nation.
As part of its approach to achieving these objectives, the strategy aims to:
- promote three ‘centres of excellence’ in order to demonstrate how Wales is a nation committed to creativity, technology and sustainability;
- increase Wales’ presence in EU Member States and develop priority international relationships with other countries and regions;
- develop a comprehensive diaspora plan to utilise the wealth and knowledge they posses to raise Wales’ profile globally; and
- become known as the first country to put the UN Sustainable Development Goals into law by promoting the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
The Committee through its work raised a number of questions about the content and delivery of the strategy, to which the Welsh Government has responded. These are outlined below.
How will the Welsh Government deliver the strategy?
In the written statement launching the consultation on the draft strategy in July 2019, the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language stated the strategy would be accompanied by delivery plans including key actions and targets. In response to the Committee’s report on the draft strategy calling for measurable targets and delivery plans to be included alongside the final strategy, the Welsh Government said that much of the activity set out in the strategy is dependent on the benefits of ‘soft power’ which aren’t measurable. It also confirmed that it had no intention to publish further detailed plans ‘above those already set out in the final strategy’.
What targets are included in the strategy?
Three measurable targets are included in the final strategy which aim to be delivered over the next five years:
- to raise Wales’ profile internationally, the Welsh Government says it will work with Welsh global diaspora and alumni and significantly increase the number we reach to 500,000 connections, focusing our activity on the key themes in this strategy;
- to grow the Welsh economy, the Welsh Government will increase the contribution that exports make to the Welsh economy by 5 per cent; and
- to establish Wales as a globally responsible nation, the Welsh Government will plant a further 15 million trees in the Mbale region of Uganda by 2025 – in addition to the 10 million already planted in the region.
The strategy’s ‘centres of excellence’
The final strategy aims to promote three ‘centres of excellence’ in order to demonstrate how Wales is a nation committed to creativity, technology and sustainability. These are:
- cyber security;
- compound-semiconductors; and
- creative industries – television and film.
The Committee’s report on the draft strategy called on the Welsh Government to outline ‘how it intends to ensure that other sectors of the economy are represented by the Welsh Government in its international activities’.
A number of responses to the Welsh Government’s own consultation on the draft strategy asked for more clarity as to why the centres of excellence had been chosen. They also noted concerns that prioritising three sectors could be seen as restrictive in terms of attracting investment for other sectors.
The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation, and in the final strategy it:
- provided more information regarding the rationale behind choosing these three industries;
- confirmed that other centres of excellence may be developed in future; and
- confirmed that Wales continues to welcome investment in, and from, all sectors of the economy.
Priority international relationships
The strategy identifies the following priority international relationships, chosen based on common cultural and linguistic heritage, shared values, and common economic and social interests:
- country relationships: Germany, France, Ireland, the US and Canada; and
- regional relationships: the Basque Country, Brittany and Flanders.
The Welsh Government has overseas offices located in all of the priority countries, and in all of the countries in which the priority regions are located, except for Spain (the Basque Country). The Committee’s report noted this anomaly and called on the Welsh Government to outline whether it intended on establishing a permanent presence in the Basque country. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation and stated that it is ‘yet to make a decision about opening an office in the Basque Country’. In the meantime, the Welsh Government has said that the offices in Paris and Brussels will work across southern Europe, including Spain.
The strategy states that the Welsh Government’s network of 21 overseas offices across 12 countries, will play a key role in delivering the strategy. The Welsh Government has began publishing quarterly reports that give high level performance data for its overseas offices. The first report was sent to the Committee on 21 October and stated that future performance measures will be revised to deliver against the international strategy objectives. The Welsh Government confirmed in its response to the Committee’s report that the revised performance measures will be published and used from Quarter 1 of the next financial year 2020-21.
How can civil society and industry engage with the international strategy?
The strategy states that two meetings a year will be held to coordinate the Welsh Government’s international activities, and of other organisations working abroad. These include local government, sports and cultural organisations, and wider civil society.
The Committee’s report on the draft international strategy called on the Welsh Government to provide more information on how it will work with civil society who wish to support the delivery of the strategy. The Welsh Government accepted the recommendation and stated in its response:
The Welsh Government is also working with groups, such as the culture and sport sectors, to bring together their international plans and ensure that we work together to maximise the impact of our overseas activity, where feasible and practical, and raise Wales’ profile.
The External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee’s report on the draft international strategy (PDF, 174KB) was published on 12 December 2019, and will be debated in Plenary on 4 March 2020.
Article by Rhun Davies, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales