Ken Skates MS, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales
Wales has long been a successful trading nation, with our award winning goods and services exported all over the world. Between 2015 and 2019, the value of Welsh goods exports grew at a faster rate than the UK as a whole and, in 2019, reached £17.8bn. The Economic Action Plan set out our commitments to prioritising exports and trade, supporting Welsh exporters to find new markets globally, and our International Strategy published earlier this year, reinforced our ambition to build on this and grow the value of exports.
Since the Strategy was published, however, the global economy has changed beyond recognition with the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. Provisional export statistics shows the negative impact on Welsh exports with the value of goods exports down 12.5% (for the Year to Q2, 2020). Whilst all UK nations experienced a fall in goods trade, the value of goods exports from Wales decreased more than across the UK as a whole.
This, in addition to the prolonged uncertainty of our future relationship with the EU, has stifled businesses’ ability to properly prepare for the end of the Transition Period.
Today, therefore, I am announcing the publication of a new Export Action Plan which will put in place comprehensive support for our exporters to recover and rebuild, providing immediate support to business, and to reinvent and adapt our support for a future ‘new normal’ for our exporters. This will be an important part of the Welsh Government’s overall approach to supporting the recovery and reconstruction of the Welsh economy.
The Export Action Plan sets out our focus on:
- Adapting our existing programmes of export support in line with new ways of working and the changing needs of business, particularly enhancing digital support through an online Export Hub and the delivery of ‘virtual’ trade missions to key markets;
- Providing advice and support to Welsh exporters for the end of the EU transition phase, including through our network of International Trade Advisers and a comprehensive webinar programme;
- Reaching out to more businesses in Wales on a ‘one-to-many basis’, particularly those businesses with a potential to export, to inspire them to take up the ‘export journey’ and contribute to our longer term goal of driving growth in Welsh exports and the contribution to good jobs;
- Building capacity and capability for exporting to ensure our businesses have the right skills, know-how and confidence to be successful exporters;
- Developing new export support interventions, including piloting a new Export Cluster initiative to facilitate strong networks of export support for key business sectors in Wales; and
- Delivering overseas activity in key markets and matching these opportunities for sectors where we have particular sectoral strengths, while supporting businesses to take advantage of any future new free trade agreements.
The Export Action Plan is part of the ‘family’ of plans published last month setting out the specific actions we are taking to deliver the aspirations of the International Strategy, including through our public diplomacy or soft power, our priority regional relationships and networks and our Welsh diaspora. It builds on the recently published End of Transition Action Plan and adds granularity to some of the strategic priorities set out within, such as business readiness and support.
It is vital that we take stock of all available support and immediately begin to implement the actions that will support our exporters, and I am pleased that our new online Export Hub (at https://export.businesswales.gov.wales/en/welcome) is now in place as an important resource for Welsh businesses providing live information on a range of export issues. This will support both new and existing exporters to grow and address any challenges they face with the future trading environment. I am immediately putting in place a series of ‘virtual export market visits’ (at https://businesswales.gov.wales/export/export-events/overseas-events/list) for the remainder of this financial year to enable Welsh businesses to continue to have the opportunity to meet with potential customers in target markets, without the need to physically travel overseas. We have also launched last week a new pilot Export Cluster focussed on the Life Sciences sector which will bring businesses together to share knowledge and best practice on exporting.
I would like to thank our key stakeholders that have engaged in the development of the Export Action Plan and, in delivering, we will work closely with our partners across the public and private sectors and wider stakeholder networks, both in Wales and internationally, including utilising our own overseas teams across the globe.
This period will undoubtedly be one of the most challenging for our businesses, particularly when trading internationally. I believe our new Export Action Plan, however, is the most ambitious and most comprehensive programme of export support ever put in place in Wales and will support our people and economy to face the challenges now and in the future.