Monday, January 17, 2011


Last week, I wrote a piece about China’s Vice Premier trade mission to the UK which started with a trip to Edinburgh where separate talks were held with the Scottish First Minister.

I also noted that, during the visit, the Chinese Vice Premier did not come to Wales, and the fact that many were now starting to ask why Wales was excluded from the agenda for the visit by this high-powered Chinese delegation, an agenda which resulted in trade deals worth £2.6 billion with most regions of the UK except Wales?

I made the case that part of the answer lies in the fact that there has been a real personal commitment by the Scottish First Minister - who has visited China twice a year for the last two years - and whose discussions with senior Chinese officials undoubtedly influenced the Scottish trade deals that were made last week.

In contrast, I questioned the trade record of our own First Minister since he was appointed to the post at the end of 2009 and asked ow many times has he led trade delegations to major economies around the World during the last 12 months?

The blog entry was picked up by Matt Withers in the Western Mail. In his article, the Welsh Assembly Government refuted my analysis, with a spokesman saying that Wales’ business links and relations with China were “extremely strong and stretch back many years” and stating that:

  • In October, the Deputy First Minister met with the Chinese Ambassador to discuss Wales-China relations
  • In 2000, Premier Wen Jiabao, then vice premier, visited Wales and this led to a Memorandum of Understanding between the major industrial area of Chongqing and the Welsh Assembly Government, agreeing to collaboration and co-operation in a number of areas, from education to sustainable development.
  • WAG is directly promoting Wales to China and has offices in the capital Beijing, China’s largest city Shanghai and in Chongqing. It also regularly run trade missions to China for Welsh companies.
  • Cardiff has an office of the China-Britain Business Council that helps companies to grow and develop their business in China.

Sounds all well and good one talk with the Chinese Ambassador didn't make any difference in getting this delegation to visit Wales did it? Indeed, the fact that WAG has to point to a trade visit that took place over a decade ago demonstrates their desperation to defend their poor track record.

Given that it was the current Chinese Premier who led that delegation, you have to wonder what sort of impression WAG made to stop them returning again and, more importantly, what investment has resulted  during the last ten years as a result of that meeting?

Certainly, the Scots have every right to toast each other with 30 year old single malts after a series of deals signed last week which:

  • secured the jobs of more than 2000 workers after Grangemouth oil refinery signed a partnership deal with PetroChina. 
  • led to a multi-million pound contract to deploy Scottish energy-from-waste technology in China has been hailed by the Chinese vice-premier as further evidence of a "flourishing" green technology exchange between the two countries. 
  • allowed Scottish salmon to be directly exported into China for the first time, helping to support a rural industry that supports 6,000 jobs in Scotland and is worth £500m to the economy.

As I noted, Alex Salmond has made a real effort to build links with one of the World’s fastest growing economies and this dedication has obviously paid dividends with various commercial deals signed between China and Scotland.

And how many deals came to Wales as a result of the Chinese trade visit? I think we all know the answer to that.

It is no good sitting down in Cardiff Bay waiting for the leading investors such as the Chinese to come to Wales. Personal and professional links with overseas governments and companies take time to build, especially with Asian nations where the concept of “guanxi” (or relationships) are critical.

One visit is never enough and, as Alex Salmond has shown, you only get the opportunity to make significant commercial deals if you demonstrate commitment and dedication to your potential partners.

If Wales is to succeed internationally, then our government’s attitude must change, and change quickly, as it is clear that they have yet to realise that an overseas visit from a leader of a nation can open doors to commercial opportunities that entrepreneurs can only dream of.

Despite the usual bluster of WAG's press office, there is little evidence that Wales has any real profile with one of the most powerful nations in the World. China, in looking to develop strong international partnerships in sustainable technologies, preferred to look to our Celtic cousins in Scotland whose leaders had made a greater effort to sell the strengths of their nation.

That is clearly not acceptable in an increasingly globalised World, and it is critical that in the future, our own political leaders make a real and sustained effort to sell the advantages of Wales to the World. If they do not, then there are other parts of the UK, such as Scotland, that will work hard to develop such links and attract jobs and investment to their region.

Welsh Labour have adopted the slogan "Standing Up for Wales" for the May elections.

Certainly, on the evidence of their performance in attracting Chinese investment into the Welsh economy during the last decade, then "Sitting Down for Wales" may be a more apt slogan.