Speech: Jeremy leads debate on Wales’s place in the World

The full text of Jeremy’s Short Debate on Wales in the World—Developing Wales’s International Links is below:

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.