Wales needs to break away from Westminster’s abysmal approach to global trade

A cargo vessel. Image by Steve Howard from Pixabay

Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru Arfon MP

As the Trade Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons today, the Covid-19 crisis has proven that we need to take a new approach to trade policy for our country. We must consider not only our international priorities and our deep commitment to our environment, but also the interests of our communities, businesses and institutions.  To achieve this, trade policy must come closer to home. There must be a greater role for our Parliament, to make it our trade policy, more resilient and with a stronger commitments to climate action.

The last four years have shown that the British State is not strong, not stable, often not even half-competent. Growing social, economic and constitutional divisions at home, stirred up with brutal glee by Tory fundamentalists, have been matched by an increase in disruption and belligerence abroad. So, the government has fallen back on that old reliable (but misplaced) British exceptionalism. It won’t touch us, we’re British. And even if it does, our bulldog spirit will pull us through. Add to this the surrender of policy to traditional Tory xenophobia, a see-sawing stance on China and the White House’s pivot from Europe towards Asia, and a thorough underestimation of the EU’s new-found unity and discipline, and you see how they got us into this fine mess.

Despite four years of miserable failure in negotiations with the EU and the destruction it’s causing, the economic and political elite in Westminster still clings to its one-size-fits-all policy, the size that fits the south-east of England. It’s this approach which has created the greatest regional inequalities in Europe and has amplified divisions between the nations of the UK. And it has mismanaged the positive and empowering potential of international trade by deliberately creating winners and losers.

We are a trading nation, exporting a wide variety of goods and services, ranging from world-renowned Welsh lamb to passenger aircraft wings, from cars to semiconductors.  With the value of Welsh goods exports alone totalling £17.7 billion for the year ending June 2019, international trade is the lifeblood of our economy, allowing Welsh firms, organisations and public bodies to access a global market that draws in investment, income and jobs.

Yet the British government, despite its abysmal record on negotiating with the EU (to which Wales exported over £10 billion of goods and services in 2019) denies our Parliament the right to approve trade deals struck in our name. Our function it seems is merely to try to manage the outcomes of these trade deals. No matter that their provisions are agreed in secret, despite growing signs the British government is lurching desperately into a bad trade deal with the US, with no deal with the EU, we are onlookers. They refuse to create legally binding trade standards to protect production and quality in areas such as agriculture. We have to lump it.

 

Ambition

Our Parliament must have a say if we are to have any hope of negotiating trade deals that address the growing gulf in our society, that respond to and encourage Welsh businesses to export, and ensure that our domestic economy can recover from Covid-19. Anything other than equal say is further proof that the British State has learnt nothing from the divisions of the last four years and is willfully ignoring their causes.

We must look ahead and learn lessons from Covid-19. The just-in-time delivery model has fundamental flaws. Britain’s dependence on cheap imports and the manipulation of trade as a hostile political tool has left it weaker and friendless. Clearly, we should encourage home production and strengthen our supply systems. And there should be no more of the blithe know-all assurances that we can just butcher whole sectors of the economy and buy from abroad. That will no longer wash.

This is not to oppose international trade, to the contrary. We demand the power to develop a more resilient and sustainable trade strategy that will enable us to grow our trading capacities. And a strategy that encourages buying locally produced goods and services to support our local economy, a ‘Buy local’ campaign, whilst engaging more sustainably and sensitively with the international market.

We must also take stronger measures to ensure trade does not come at the cost of the natural world by building into trade agreements conditions relating to ecosystem protection and climate targets. Together with a greater focus on building a domestic circular economy to reduce demand for imported raw materials, measures such as these could reduce significantly the carbon footprint of Welsh trade.

Even as Covid-19 continues to haunt our society and the repercussions of the virus grow, we must learn from the crisis so that we can rebuild effectively and quickly. We can refashion trade to achieve our ambitions, from powering a more prosperous economy to minimising and reducing our impact on the natural world. This ambition starts with engaging with the communities, businesses and institutions of our country to build a better, more resilient future.

International trade will remain a cornerstone of our economic model. But together we now have an unexpected opportunity to change it for the better, for good.

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PitmanPlain citizenK. KHuw DaviesJonathan Gammond Recent comment authors
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Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Hywel says correctly that ….. “The just-in-time delivery model has fundamental flaws.” Too right it does when you rely far too much on delivery from the far side of the globe rather than delivery from a network of manufacturers situated within your own region. The history of globalisation is littered with evidence of this weakness but global corporations driven by a perverse view of their cost base adopted a corrupted version of JIT where stocks were held at discreet stages despite the myth of JIT being near zero inventories. That in turn is reflected in Hywel’s next point that we… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

I’m at the moment doing some historical research on various companies that started out on the Treforest Industrial Estate, one of the first of its kind in the UK. One particular firm started off small, and initially farmed out those parts of the production process they couldn’t manage to other suppliers. None of those suppliers was based outside of the UK, but there were constant problems and delays caused by this element in the production process. Ultimately the company strived to take all elements of production, from raw materials to finished product ‘in house’ and have complete control over all… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Globalisation was the final nail in the coffin of a lot of good manufacturing based here. True that China or E Europe could produce at lower cost per unit but I could fill a big book with anecdotes about the logistic, quality and reliability issues that cropped up frequently which resulted in the final stages of engineering, assembly or just packaging in the UK being shunted into unacceptable arrears. Such was, and continues to be, the pressure from major globalist brands like the auto manufacturers to keep unit costs down that there was huge unwillingness to drop the farcical long… Read more »

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

Great example of a political article drafted by the under 13 socialist group at a local school using all the meaningless buzzwords and phrases one would expect. ‘ . . . buy local’, ‘resilient and sustainable strategy’, ‘engage sensitively with the international market’ (what on earth does that mean?), ‘thorough underestimation of the EU’s new found unity and discipline’ (this is hilarious as the German constitutional court has just blown open the entire system of intergovernmental financing and stopped the ECB in its tracks as just one example of the fractures in the EU at every level! Yadda yadda yadda.… Read more »

John
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John

Well, Plain Citizen, you clearly need to chill a bit and, if you don’t understand those terms, perhaps enrol in a suitable Evening Class. Clearly, what you are trying to say is that you don’t agree with points made in the article. That’s fine. We all struggle from time to time, but I think you will find that this is not the way to win arguments…

K. K
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K. K

Buy local – why not? Do I want my money going into a multinational bank account based in Switzerland or into the local economy? Resilient and sustainable strategy – in other words long term economic planning rather than short term gains which has not only made the rich even richer but leaves less money in your pocket. If you want an analogy would you rather develop your youth team players (long term) or would you rather waste money on having a player who costs a transfer fee and could possibly be not what is required whilst the agent makes a… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Agree. EU reform needed, but it’s a tough out in the Atlantic……….alone.

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

‘Buy local’? Sure let’s get the Welsh taxpayer to fund banana plantations on Anglesey (or is that ‘long term central economic planning’?) Let individuals and firms decide what they want to buy and from whom. Show me one example of government economic planning that has worked and not swallowed up millions (or billions) in (largely unplanned) taxpayer subsidy? Comments re international trade deals killing the agri sector are a rehash of the corn laws where (as now) 5% of the economy, agriculture, wanted the population to subsidise its lifestyle with trade barriers and tarriffs by buying the expensive food it… Read more »

K. K
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K. K

Sorry but whilst I have no problem with your right to reply I have to confess that your argument is poorly constructed with no real examples as to the thrust of the original article. My comments on buy local had nothing to do with bananas really did it? It was more to do with supporting the local economy and the benefits that can bring. If you want an example then one only has to look at the issues of food security that has arisen as a result of the pandemic. Why be so reliant on others? International trade deals –… Read more »

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

You say ‘why import milk when 1M litres discarded in last month alone’ etc? The answer is: if it is cheaper. Obviously the consumer should have the choice of buying product A at £1 per litre (whether it is beer, milk or banana juice is irrelevant), or product B at £2 per litre. That is why we don’t grow bananas in Wales, because it is cheaper to get them from abroad for a price consumers are prepared to pay or we tax the population to give growers enormous subsidies as in farming now. Please tell me what is this issue… Read more »

K. K
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K. K

When did I say that people needed to cultivate potatoes, rice and bananas in their back gardens? And what is this obsession you have with bananas? I notice that aside from insinuating that I am proposing a banana farm in Capel Curig at the taxpayers expense you also quote banana juice as a commodity. To answer your other questions it may surprise you to know that a number of countries in the world do provide subsidies for agriculture. How that is spent is up to them but it isn’t the result of any widespread communist conspiracy but a fact of… Read more »

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

Bananas much appreciated. Pineapples not so much. Thanks for the offer.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Fine words but unless we gain independence it’s pretty much pie in the sky stuff. Our future, as it stands, depends on what this ideologically driven government does over the next few years. Any money given to the Welsh Parliament will be needed to support us with just the basics (if that)- there will be no money for an improved Welsh economy. I doubt any money from the shared prospertity fund will come anywhere near the amount we received from the EU. We will become poorer as the UK government realises it’s huge mistake. The south east and London will… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Independence will almost certainly make us poorer in the short and maybe the medium term. But countries have an amazing knack to recover and I don’t doubt that Wales would. We have an amazing asset that hardly anyone recognises as an asset, the Welsh people (and this includes anyone who has moved here and has contributed). In terms of other natural resources, most of us already know that Wales is the fifth largest exporter of energy in the world, which currently we see no benefit from. There is also water, which is again exported in vast quantities with no financial… Read more »

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

There is a lot of talk about the UK being a “family of nations”, but if the “oldest brother” decides he should take all the decisions in relation to something as vital as trade and chooses to ignore the ideas and interests of his “siblings” then he should know that they might decide its time to “leave home” and he will be left on his own.

Pitman
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Pitman

Actually the very large, noisy and youngest on this Island .