Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Over the weekend, I had a twitter dialogue with Rhuannedd Richards, currently chief executive of Plaid Cymru.

She was responding to a comment by the First Minister that having access to the UK Government's international division, UKTI, was one advantage that Wales had as being part of the UK. Rhuannedd noted that she was "Surprised that Carwyn Jones used how Wales "benefits" from UKTI to justify continuation of UK. Wales has never been important to UKTI".

I am wondering where she received this information as it is certainly different to what I was told by UKTI in a meeting a few weeks ago. Indeed,  I was informed that UKTI had supported 376 Welsh firms to internationalise their activities even though this should be a devolved matter. Indeed,  more crucially, I wonder how this compares to whatever services are now offered by the Welsh Government, especially given that it was Ieuan Wyn Jones, when economic development minister, who abolished IBW (International Business Wales) which previously had responsibility for all internationalisation activities?

So what can UKTI offer to Welsh businesses?

The UKTI’s Overseas Market Introduction Service is a flexible business tool that lets British companies commission the services of trade teams located in overseas missions across the world. The Market Visit Support programme also provides assistance to new-to-export or new-to-market SMEs visiting overseas markets as part of their trade development process. However, in this respect, UKTI also provides some direct funding to the Welsh Government to support their own mission programmes.

UKTI also works in partnership with other organisations to deliver internationalisation initiatives. For example, the Export Marketing Research Scheme is an initiative run by the British Chambers of Commerce as a contractor to UKTI. It provides advice and co-funding (at up to £5k per project) for eligible companies to carry out their own market research overseas. The Chambers can also provide support for an Export Communications Review, which examines a company’s strategic communications approach to trading overseas.

But the First Minister should not just quote the example of UKTI when it is politically expedient if the Department for Business in Wales, as I have been reliably informed, is doing little to ensure a closer relationship with this body.

And if the economy is important to the Welsh Government, then more could, and should be done to help businesses take full advantage of exporting opportunities. In fact, Welsh firms still only account for 2.6 per cent of all UK exporters despite a growth in the value of exports since 1999, which suggests considerable potential within the Welsh business community for further overseas expansion if only the right support and advice was available.

However, that can only be achieved if there is better co-ordination and co-operation between the Welsh Government’s international branch and the UKTI in 2012. Not only could this begin a long overdue entente cordiale between the two administrations but, more importantly, should benefit the Welsh economy at a time when businesses need every help they can get.