Wales & The World I: Our Embryonic Foreign Policy

It’s been months in the making (years in the talking of doing it), but at last I’ve finally got round to it. I’ve been looking forward to this and I hope those “hard nationalists” who read the blog will appreciate it too.

It should be one of the main reasons why any of us (who do so) support independence – taking our place at the world’s top tables and being treated the same as any other nation. Before considering what a Welsh foreign policy should be and what would be required in effort and structure to make it function, it’s worth considering current aspects of devolved policy that could be dubbed “external relations”.


The Welsh Government Abroad

The Welsh Government doesn’t maintain formal diplomatic relations with any other country, but they do have something you could describe as a “representative service” overseas.As of 2015, the Welsh Government maintains 15 offices outside Wales – London, Dublin, Brussels, Dubai, Tokyo, 4 in the United States (Washington DC, New York, Chicago, San Francisco), 3 in India (Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore) and 3 in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing).Many of these were inherited from the long-demised International Business Wales. 

Some of these offices are based within British embassies or consulates (i.e. Washington, Dublin, Dubai), while others are stand-alone (i.e Tokyo, Chongqing, Brussels). Their role isn’t “ambassadorial” or consular, but revolves around promoting Wales for inward investment, enhancing educational and cultural links and tourism.The Welsh Government recently asked for Public Policy Institute advice on where to base its overseas offices (more on this in Part III and Part IV).In the context of independence, these existing offices would presumably be recategorised as embassies and high commissions.

According to figures reported earlier this year, the total cost of running the offices was just under £2.5million in the year to April 2014, leading to criticism of the perceived under-performance of some offices in attracting leads – despite reported record levels of inward investment.In terms of politics and government, the First Minister, Business and Economy Minister, Finance Minister and whichever minister is degegated responsibility for agriculture at the time (currently the Deputy Minister for Farming & Food) share de facto external relations duties. They’re usually the four government ministers who make the most trips abroad or regularly interact with foreign governments, foreign businesses and international organisations like the EU. Other Ministers, and some backbench AMs, also make official foreign visits as part of events involving organisations like the Commonwealth. 

The National Assembly & Diplomacy
Aside from members of the royal family, the Llywydd (Presiding Officer) and their deputies are the closest Wales has to ambassadors, as they’re usually the people who receive foreign dignitaries at the National Assembly.This happens surprisingly often – perhaps up to a half dozen times a year – sometimes after invitation by the First Minister, sometimes as part of inter-parliamentary exchange visits. 

These visits have ranged from US, Irish and Canadian ambassadors, a controversial visit by the Israeli ambassador in 2008 and visits by various Palestinian delegations.In 2014, Irish President Michael Higgins, visited the Assembly, while representatives from other legislatures have visited with a view to modernising their own facilities (believe it or not, but the Assembly is considered “innovative”). Just last month, Welsh-born former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, gave a lecture on gender equality – which you can watch here if you’re interested.The Assembly is a full member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and in May 2014 hosted a two-day Commonwealth British Isles and Mediterranean Region Conference. AMs are also members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE) – hosting a CALRE conference in 2013, with the (then) Llywydd, Rosemary Butler AM (Lab, Newport West), chairing a CALRE session on gender equality in June 2015.The National Assembly has its own specialist International Relations team which helps arrange non-governmental visits by foreign organisations and dignitaries.

Wales in the European Union 1973-2020 (Part V)

This was subject to a more detailed inquiry by the National Assembly’s Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee during 2013-14 (Wales in Europe: What role do we play?).

Although Wales isn’t a full EU member state, Welsh Government ministers attend meetings and contribute to the UK’s representations, meaning Wales has an “indirect voice” at the top tables of the EU, while Wales also maintains a full-time presence in Brussels (Wales House). Two AMs are members of the EU’s Committee of the Regions, which represents federal states and stateless nations.

The EU maintains a presence in Wales too.The EU Commission have an office in Cardiff, while the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) – based in Merthyr Tydfil, and officially part of the Welsh Government – administers EU funds. The West Wales & The Valleys region has been eligible for structural funds (Objective One) since 2000, and was awarded another round worth around £2billion for 2014-2020.

The other major Wales-EU interaction is in agriculture. Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) farm payments – one of the EU’s biggest spending categories – will be worth at least £1.6billion to Welsh farmers between 2014-2020.

The National Assembly has a European and External Affairs Committee which was disbanded in March 2011 then reinstated in 2016. In the itnerim period its responsibilities largely transfered to the Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee. Scotland maintains a statutory external affairs committee and a cabinet secretary with an external affairs remit.

Wales in the Global Economy

  • Wales: An Economic Profile V

    Although figures have fluctuated recently, Wales’ import-export ratio is balanced while the UK as a whole is a net-importer. This fundamentally changes the relationship Welsh businesses and government should have with foreign businesses and governments.

    Welsh economic policy has, for many decades, been about attracting inward investment – getting foreign companies to set up or invest in Wales. Those products will then be exported. The UK has, broadly, tried to do the opposite, especially in terms of financial services/banking.

    You can argue Wales doesn’t have an instantly-recognisable global brand in the same way as Nokia for Finland, RBS for Scotland or Lego for Denmark. Despite this, Wales’ traditional role as a base for branch factories of global corporations means Welsh manufacturing has always had a international flavour – especially influenced by Japan, the United States and Germany.

    The Welsh Government have proactively tried to “go to the world”, with senior Welsh Ministers participating in trade missions to Turkey, Canada, the United States, India, New Zealand and the Middle East. The Welsh Government planned a presence at at least 8 trade fairs in North America, Middle East and Asia during the first three months of 2015 alone.The impact of these foreign visits has been questioned due to the low returns and lack of formal structure for trade missions.The demise of the globally-known Welsh Development Agency (WDA) brand has also been criticised (The WDA’s Shadow: Trade & Investment Inquiry).

    Aside from inward investment and tourism, universities are probably the main way by which people from outside of the UK interact with Wales. According to Stats Wales, in 2013-14 there were 25,605 admissions to Welsh universities from non-UK domiciled citizens – approximately 19.8% of all admissions.Sêr Cymru – a £50million Welsh Government fund for science talent – has been used to attract leading academics from around the world to Welsh universities in order to chair research in several key areas. In the long-term it’s hoped this would attract other established academics to carry out world-class research.In the aftermath of the First World War, the School of International Politics at Aberystwyth University was established to provide high-quality research into international relations, one of the first departments of its kind in the world. 

    Welsh Cultural Exports 

    • Sport – Wales is a full member of the International Rugby Board (IRB), IFAB (football rule-making body), UEFA and FIFA as well as many other international bodies. By rights, Welsh national teams shouldn’t exist as many organisations usually only admit sovereign nations, though the likes of the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar (as well as the Home Nations) also compete separately in football. Ryan Giggs, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are arguably the most famous Welsh people worldwide, let alone footballers. Other sports stars, particularly boxers and cyclists, will also be well-known globally.
    • Commonwealth Games – Wales competes as a separate nation in the Commonwealth Games and is currently 10thon the all-time medal list. Many Welsh athletes who made a name for themselves at the Commonwealth Games have gone on to compete for Great Britain at the Olympics. However, it also means many Welsh athletes are denied a chance to compete at the Olympics due to competition from the other Home Nations athletes for limited places in Team GB.
    • The Arts – Some Welsh stars of past and present, particularly actors, are instantly recognisable. Many musical exports have enjoyed success to varying degrees abroad like : Bryn Terfel, Badfinger, Manic Street Preachers, Bullet For My Valentine, Joy Formidable etc. Actors and artists are, arguably, as valuable as cultural ambassadors for Wales as politicians and professional diplomats.
    • The International Eisteddfod – One of the largest cultural competitions of its kind. Hosted at a permanent base in Llangollen, the competition usually attracts sizable crowds and competitors from around the world.
    • Tourism – According to a National Assembly committee inquiry in November 2014 (Assembly gives Wales mixed Tripadvisor review), tourism is worth up to £6.9billion to the Welsh economy and supports around 209,000 jobs. The vast majority of tourists in Wales are from the rest of the UK. In 2012, just 854,000 tourists from outside the UK visited Wales, which is a steady decline on the 1.14million in 2006. However, more recent figures suggest the number of international tourists has increased slightly to 930,000 in 2014.
    • The Welsh Diaspora – A Welsh Government study from 2006 based on family names (pdf) showed that in Wales, the rest of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States there could be around 16.3million people with a tangible Welsh ancestry. In fact, there are considerably more Americans with Welsh surnames than there are Welsh people living in Europe.At least 16 (of 56) signatories of the Declaration of Independence and around 7 US Presidents have at least partial (or claimed) Welsh ancestry – not including Jefferson Davis.Also, some of America’s most famous institutions – like the elite Yale University – are named in honour of, or were beneficiaries of, Welsh people.In 2011, it was estimated there were around 460,000 Canadians of Welsh descent, while at least three Australian Prime Ministers had Welsh ancestry, along with the most (in)famous Welsh-Australian, Rolf Harris.

      In South America there’s the famous Y Wladfa in Chubut Province, Argentina, where around 10% of the population still speak Welsh. Coincidentally, this is being published around the 150th anniversary of the colony’s establishment in 2015 – not that I deliberately timed it or anything like that.This surname-based method is seriously flawed. Firstly, there are many people who will consider themselves Welsh who don’t have traditionally Welsh surnames – myself included. Then there’s the fact high numbers of Afro-Caribbeans who’ve probably never heard of Wales also have Welsh surnames – many of whom are very famous indeed; the anecdotal reason being that many freed slaves took the surname of their former owners or the people who freed them.


      Wales’ Foreign Aid Programme

      Yes, believe it or not Wales has an international development programme. I’m going to look at international development in more detail another time, but I’ll touch on it now and also in Part IX.The most prominent example is the Welsh Government-backed Wales for Africa programme, run in partnership with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).

      It aims to foster links between communities in Wales (especially schools) and projects in 22 African nations in order to help meet UN Millennium Development Goals – which expire this year.One key project involves promotion of fair trade – the principle that producers in developing countries are paid a fair price for their produce and granted better trading conditions. Wales became the first ever “fair trade nation” in 2008, after passing a key milestone by having fair trade organisations in as many communities as possible actively promoting fair trade goods.There are also projects which aim to train African health staff, and a programme to plant and sustain a tropical rain forest the size of Wales near the city of Mbale in Uganda.

      In January 2014, the First Minister visited Uganda on behalf of the Welsh Government to see the impact of these projects for himself. Even though foreign policy was “above his pay grade”, the visit proved more controversial than he had perhaps anticipated due to highly-controversial anti-homosexual legislation being passed through the Ugandan Parliament.The Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) – a charity based at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff – runs the International Development Wales hub which acts as an umbrella for aid NGOs based in Wales. The WCIA also includes the UN Association Wales and the Council for Education in World Citizenship, which hosts events like a model UN and various workshops.According to WCIA, the Wales for Africa Partnership has a budget of £1.8million over 3 years.

      Part II looks at the major schools of thought in foreign policy and tries to determine what the “Welsh National Interest” is (or would be).