Susie Ventris-Field sets out the elements that should influence Welsh Government’s new international strategy.
Brexit is just weeks away. Uncertainty and short-term thinking dominate the political landscape. This is exactly the right time for long-term and inspiring visions of what our future relationship with the world could be and the most important question for a strategy in uncertain times is not what do you want to do, but what do you want to be?
The UK is one of only six countries across the world that spends 0.7% of its gross national income on international aid, a commitment enshrined in law. But there are prominent voices shaping the ‘global Britain’ discussion that push for Britain to pursue its own trade and investment interests, regardless of this pledge and other international obligations and responsibilities. For example, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson argued that the 0.7% Britain commits to international aid should be spent on furthering political, commercial and economic interests, including spending on defence.
On the domestic front, Britain was one of the authors of the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, the Windrush scandal, long processing times for asylum applications and the use of detention centres has created a ‘hostile environment’ for those seeking sanctuary on our shores, who are fleeing conflict and persecution.
The ‘hostile environment’ also contributes to challenges for the inward migration that Wales needs. For example, universities are facing financial challenges as numbers of international students drop and NHS staff shortages are increasing. Furthermore, the UK’s Immigration Bill doesn’t account for the differentiated needs of the Welsh economy in terms of inward migration.
Against this backdrop, can Wales use its devolved powers to build upon British foreign and trade policy, differentiating itself as a globally responsible and welcoming nation and bringing out the values and qualities that are important to so many people across the nation?
For the first time, Wales has an International Relations and Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan, who has committed to developing a cross-governmental International Strategy for Wales. Trade and investment will, naturally, be dominant features in such a strategy, as will using soft power to further Welsh interests. However, this policy can and should do more. The minister has stated that she wants the new strategy to be based on strong shared values and rooted in civil society efforts spanning decades. Wales has a history of solidarity, international aid and development and campaigns for peace and justice around the world that can inspire a rounded strategy that defines how the country is perceived on the global stage.
Some examples: historically, we have the Message of Peace and Goodwill from the young people of Wales to the world, about to reach its 100th anniversary; the Peace Appeal where, in 1924, 40% of the women in Wales signed a petition to the women of America so they could lobby the President to join the League of Nations; long-standing links between Wales and Somaliland, Uganda and Lesotho; and the Wales anti-apartheid movement.
More recently, the Wales for Africa programme, established by the Welsh Government because people in Wales wanted to make a unique contribution to international development, is still going strong ten years on. It supports skills-sharing, solidarity and international development efforts that contribute to poverty alleviation. Much of the initiative is driven by local communities in both Wales and Africa, in response to mutual needs.
Wales has also shown outward-looking trends in domestic policy. It has been a Fair Trade Nation for ten years, with people across sectors making purchasing decisions on ethical grounds. Wales will hopefully be the world’s first Nation of Sanctuary as a counterpoint to the ‘hostile environment’. We have a Well-being of Future Generations Act that commits the public sector to be, among other goals, globally responsible and a new curriculum for Wales has a central goal that young people will be ‘ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world’.
So how do these diverse elements come together to influence an international strategy? I can suggest three ways.
First, Wales can build its reputation, showcasing its globally responsible domestic policies, hoping to inspire similar behaviours and learning from the practice of others so we can do even better. This recommendation is echoed in the External Affairs Committee report Wales’ future relationship with Europe and the world, published last week, to use international engagement to demonstrate international leadership.
Second, it is vital that Wales’ international strategy protects and builds on the commitment its people have shown to alleviating poverty, as in the Wales for Africa programme. Within this programme, a more strategic approach may be valuable. For example, given the current size of the budget, the strategy could focus on one thematic area or country and certainly offer more opportunities to build stronger relationships across the third, public and private sectors in programme delivery. What should be avoided when taking a more strategic focus is the dilution or redirection of the programme to enhance trade or for economic self-interest. The reputational benefits conferred to Wales by taking our international responsibilities seriously will make the country a place people want to visit and do business with, as well as meeting the wishes of the public in Wales to make a positive contribution.
Third, some key values should permeate the other aspects of the strategy and drive proactive diplomacy. These should include commitments to sustainability, respect for human rights, tolerance, cooperation, peace and justice.
In practice, there are many ways in which these values could be manifested. As a Fair Trade Nation, we care about ethical trade; we want a green economy. Trade and investment elements of the strategy should reflect these commitments. We should make as much as possible of Wales as a Nation of Sanctuary – a welcoming place that people will want to come to, including students and tourists; the vibrant diaspora and refugee constituents here in Wales, from countries like Somaliland, China and Portugal, have expertise and insight and should be involved regularly for their views.
As well as being the right things to do, these kinds of practical steps will make Wales a more attractive place to do business, and to visit.
Eluned Morgan gave an opening speech in the Senedd that included all the right messages. We are now hopeful that Wales will develop an international strategy for a truly globally responsible Wales.
Photo by Duangphorn Wiriya on Unsplash