By Mattia Ruaro and David Jones

As we move further into the 21st century, with all its promise and uncertainty, much can be said about the situation of Wales: an independent, bilingual country, rich in culture and tradition, populated by a range of vibrant businesses of all sizes.  So far, so good.  But does the wider world notice?

Wales is not always recognised as an independent cultural or economic entity. While England’s place in the world is strongly established, it is also true that Northern Ireland and Scotland have cultural identities which are more widely recognised than that of Wales.  Why does this happen? This is an issue that should be tackled strongly and decisively, as it offers a key to helping Wales truly “go global”. A reputation and identity in the wider world makes promotion easier; it does the job for you.

How do our near neighbours tackle this issue?  It may be a stereotype to think of Scotland as a country of bagpipes, fishing boats and whisky, but this image has done no harm to Scottish exports.  Earlier this year economists reported a record surge in Scottish salmon exports, and in 2011 the Scotch Whisky Association recorded exports of £4 billion, showing a year on year increase of 23%. New consumers in Asia and South America are flocking to the product, and the increase in demand has brought a recent £1 billion investment in distillery production from Diageo.  Two unapologetically Scottish products that are driving national identity and economic growth.

So how can this be done for Wales? Which qualities embodied in our people drive our export strategy? It’s an interesting balancing act.  Take pride in the flag while simultaneously taking pride in the distinctiveness of individual products and services. Easier said than done, of course.

But it is something to work on, and our best commercial minds, as well as our political leaders, are making progress.

In April of this year Business Minister Edwina Hart announced a far reaching strategy designed to take “Brand Wales” to all corners of the globe.  By targeting key countries and sectors with a series of high profile trade missions, the Welsh Assembly Government is providing focus and leadership.

Taking a long term view, education is at the heart of our economic future. English remains a global lingua franca, but the languages of emerging economies are rapidly gaining ground. Where Welsh parents might previously have told their children that English, French and German were the languages of the future, our next generation might need to pay equal attention to Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin, Urdu or Arabic.  Investment in language learning in our schools will surely pay dividends, giving Wales the platform to take the share of the global market it deserves.

Nations have to earn global respect and smaller nations often have to work very hard for it.  Wales has the talent to take its place in the world.

This is too vibrant and talented a nation to exist in anyone’s shadow.

Step forward, Wales.  Step forward into the sunlight where you belong.

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  • Cathy Marriott

    You’re right to say it’s a balancing act because “proud to be Welsh” can sometimes lead to us being too inward looking. Yes be proud to be Welsh and proud of our products but be proud to share them – and do what it takes to share them – with the world.

  • Martin Geraghty

    Good article, and timely. WAG have done good things this year but if we want ‘Brand Wales’ to compete with, say, Brand Scotland, we need stronger brand identity nationally and per product. Hopefully on the right track though.

  • Ian Hayter

    There is an identity issue or brand issue or call it what you like, proven because the emerging markets have been less lucrative for Wales than for the UK as a whole. We can’t turn our back on Europe as an export market obviously but the fact is that other British products have fared far better in Asia – Scotch whiskey and salmon notably so. We need our brands to crack it with the BRIC economies in the way those products have.

  • Adele Marinescu

    Interesting that Wales wants to promote its brand separately from the UK but I think maybe it is stronger as part of the UK? All of this clamour for separateness, is Wales strong enough economically to support this? What do you think David?

  • Ian Hayter

    By the way your previous article about the pride & momentum gained by the Olympics suggested it gave Andy Murray the platform to be a champion, and a couple of weeks later he did exactly that by winning the US Open. So he is a guy proving that Scottish pride and British pride in the right mix can take you to new heights. So I see Adele’s point about not turning your back on Britishness. Murray is as Scottish as scotch whiskey and rightly so but it was British patriotism that gave him the push to where he is now. Obviously this is sport not economics but I think its relevant because to me Wales works best economically as a strong, respected part of Britain.

  • The “Welsh or British” debate could go on endlessly and sometimes issues of flag waving can cloud a person’s judgment regardless of their nationality. It’s self evidently true that if your product doesn’t meet a standard and a need, you’ll struggle to sell it at home or overseas. But if it does – and a host of Welsh products do – surely a strong brand identity will put some muscle behind it. In some markets that might make national branding peripheral but there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to a situation where a Welsh product is as identifiable as, say, “Scotch”.

  • David Morris Jones

    Far from lauding “Business Minister” Edwina Hart – (when did she ever run a business I wonder?) and her “strategy” to take “Brand Wales” to “all corners of the globe” – we should surely be castigating her and the Welsh Government for an enormous waste of public money.

    People don’t buy stuff because it’s “Welsh”. People only buy stuff because it’s good quality and good value for money – no one gives a damn where it’s made.

    You are right to say “education is at the heart of our economic future” – and you might well have gone one to point out that Edwina Hart and her Labour colleagues in the Welsh Government are continuing to make the most god-awful hash of it.

    Wales has the worst educational standards in the UK. In our schools children are being taught by teachers who are, themselves, illiterate. Forty per cent of children in Wales are emerging from primary education at the age of eleven unable to read or write
    (read the Estyn report if you don’t believe me).

    Until Welsh people stop the silly habit of voting Labour nothing is likely to improve.

  • We can find fault with all this country’s major parties if we choose but I’m not judging Edwina Hart on her party allegiance (this blog isn’t politically motivated). I’m simply acknowledging that in 2012 her ministry and her team have provided leadership and focus. Targeting key sectors and key partners in a structured way seems sensible to me and and I’ve spoken to a lot of B2B exporters who value that approach and see it as a step forward. Plenty still to do? Undoubtedly, but that doesn’t invalidate the forward step.

    Educational standards in Wales aren’t what we want them to be, and our NEET statistics don’t make pretty viewing but in my experience that’s not due to a lack of skill or commitment among teachers. I’ve worked closely with primary and secondary school teachers in Wales who are not only selfless but also show as much talent and professionalism as anyone in any sector, and they are lobbying for curriculum and resource improvements that would leave Welsh school leavers far better equipped than they are now.

  • Ian Hayter

    There’s an argument that the Welsh education system was left in tatters by the demise of grammar schools. There’s another argument that 80s and 90s cuts did the damage, and yet another that New Labour are to blame. I’m a Welsh Conservative voter (yes, endangered species) and I think we all have to accept responsibility for where we are now educationally and economically. I also think Edwina Hart is doing a decent job and the sector strategy is worth pursuing.

  • Morten Geisler

    The main question I believed here was about Wales identity overseas as a nation and a collection of products. The unfortunate truth is that the identity is not strong, even though some of the products are among the world’s best. Your foodstuffs such as lamb and beef are excellent, your engineering and electronics are market leading, but does the world see this? No, the article is correct, the world I know sees Wales as a county region of England. What do do about this? Look outward not inward.

  • Mattia Ruaro

    I believe the main problem of Welsh exports lies in the fact that for us foreigners (at least I could speak as an Italian and European) a product coming from Cardiff means exactly the same thing as a product coming from Manchester or Belfast, it’s simply British and we only care if it is what we paid for. The relation with the whole British economy cannot and should not be put aside, but “Brand Wales” has to distinguish itself in something. That something should not be political in my opinion, as it could only make the situation controversial, but simply cultural or traditional. If those aspects are not applicable, unrivaled quality should be the focus of promotions. One way to do this could be the German example: lately all adverts from Mercedes and BMW have been deliberately left in German even in other countries, BMW is now “Das Auto” everywhere, no longer “The car”. So, why not use catchy Welsh slogans (maybe even subtitled or with English on its side) to name,brand or promote a product? The unique sound of the language is surely to be remembered, and this could be the starting point.

  • Ian Hayter

    Mattia, good observation and it’s valuable to see this economy through the eyes of a well-informed outsider. “Das Auto” is part of the international lexicon and who knows, maybe there are Welsh automotive engineers whose products might benefit from similar labelling?

  • Martin Geraghty

    There’s a resource issue here. It was mentioned in Carwyn Jones’s press briefing yesterday that Wales has one trade rep covering the Persian Gulf where Scotland has fourteen. I agree with Dave & Mattia’s comments about branding but once you’ve branded a product you need to sell it. Do we have the resource in place to achieve that?

  • Adele Marinescu

    Martin Geraghty is correct about a resource issue. I see English goverment trade representatives with great frequency but for Wales it is almost always private sector people who have a presence. I know there are more urgent locations in more expanding markets but maybe it is the “same story” there, with your country under represented. This is a difficult issue when you have limited resources and like many smaller EU countries there is no easy answer.

  • Amita Sharma

    Wales must be seeking the correct partnerships and also the correct balance in these partnerships. You have very good quality foodstuffs for example but the balance of trade shows the UK importing far more food than exporting. It is not only smaller countries with this problem. India has a big trade relationship with China but as we export more to them they export FAR more to us, so as the partnership grows stronger the deficit grows bigger. Wales must dedicate resources to export trade and choose partners who will reciprocate economically in important ways.