Wales can look forward to stronger and deeper post-Brexit trade links with the US

Wales can look forward to stronger and deeper post-Brexit trade links with the US

The Celtic tiger may soon be eclipsed by the shadow of a Celtic dragon. Ireland has long popularised its American diaspora. Yet as long as Ireland remains in the EU’s customs union, it is its Celtic neighbour Wales that will gain from Britain’s rebooted sovereign trade policy, a White House that puts its closest ally at the ‘front of the queue’ and a UK-US free trade agreement destined to become “the next chapter in the Special Relationship.”

Theresa May said on St David’s Day earlier this year: “As we forge new trade deals, I want more jobs in Wales, more exports of Welsh products, more growth for the Welsh economy.” The UK Government, the Wales Office and the Department for International Trade are fighting Wales’ corner, the latter helping almost 1,200 individual firms in Wales in this year to July, with overseas trade shows, market research and networking.

This contrasts with the Welsh Labour Government’s inertia, which views Brexit not as an opportunity to be seized but a problem to be overcome. Their Cabinet Secretary for the Economy has not yet met with Irish Government counterparts to discuss the role of Welsh ports, which are a front line for British trade, although First Minister Carwyn Jones has flown to Scotland to meet his counterpart, Nicola Sturgeon, for a joint statement opposing the Great Repeal Bill.

The Welsh Labour Government has offices in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago, but Wales’ image as a constituent part of the world’s greatest champion of free trade is compromised by running down our post-Brexit prospects, at a time when we should be encouraging exporters.

Between 2012 and 2016 the value of Welsh exports to North America has declined by 48%. Reversing this requires demonstrable confidence in Wales’ ability to grow its exports to – and attract inward investments from – America. The UK-US free trade agreement is an unprecedented opportunity to show this.

Brexit can be an unfrozen moment in Cambrian-American economic relations. As the Celtic dragon prepares to take flight, Wales must re-popularise its historic links with the United States. Wales has its own Special Relationship with America and legacy networks we can build on in future.

Proximity to the Atlantic gave Wales a major role in the development of modern America right from the start. In A History of Wales, historian John Davies credits the view ‘that it was Richard Amerik of Glamorgan, a Bristol merchant and investor in the second voyage of John Cabot, who gave his name to America’.

The Welsh-American Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. At the 2005 National Eisteddfod, a memorial was unveiled to the American President at the Llanberis Welsh Slate Museum.

The US Embassy in London states there have been nine US Presidents with Welsh ancestry (including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James Garfield, Calvin Coolidge and Richard Nixon). The founder of Brown University was a Welshman named Morgan Edwards. Yale University was named after Elihu Yale.

Wales can also capitalise on its diasporic links to modern America, whose citizens are famously keen to trace their links back to the “Old Country”. Irish diaspora expert Kingsley Aikens says as few as twenty innovators from the Welsh diaspora could transform Wales’ economy.

The 2008 US Census estimated there are 1.98 million Americans of Welsh ancestry, more than in any country other than Wales and the rest of Britain. The number of Americans named Williams, Evans and Jones is greater than the number of people in modern Wales with these surnames. There are ten towns and cities called Cardiff in the United States.

According to the North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Welsh industrial workers from the world’s ‘first industrial nation’ sought new opportunities in America’s Gilded Age. By 1890, there were over one hundred thousand people from Wales living in the United States.

The South Wales Valleys sent vast amounts of coal across the Atlantic to heat homes, fuel trains and steamships. The terne-plate roof of the White House’s West Wing was made after orders were placed in 1886 with William Gilbertson and Company of Pontardawe near Swansea.

Deepening the Cambrian-American economic relationship through a UK-US free trade agreement can put Wales’ workforce and world-beating offerings in aerospace, life sciences, defence, pharmaceuticals, telephony, automotive and higher education, at the ‘front-of-the-queue’, drawing more investment and jobs from America.

For the last seventy years, America has been the largest inward investor backing the Welsh economy. Investments from US firms account for almost 40% of foreign monies invested in Wales’ economy. Nearly three hundred American companies operate in Wales, creating 48,000 jobs, half of which are in high-end manufacturing. Wales has a trade surplus with the American economy, which is also our largest market, buying £2.9 billion of Welsh exports and £138m worth of Welsh iron and steel in 2015.

There is also a political dimension to Wales’ Special Relationship with America. The 2014 NATO Summit was held at the Celtic Manor in Newport. The Wales Summit Declaration, updating the American-led alliance’s doctrine, was the most important since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the UK’s role in NATO underscores our intergovernmental commitment to the security in Europe as we leave the supra-national EU.

A ‘Friends of Wales Congressional Caucus’, recently formed on Capitol Hill to further business, academic and cultural links between Wales and the USA, sent its first delegation of Congressmen to Wales in 2015.

Following the EU referendum in which Vote Leave secured a 53% majority in Wales on a 72% turnout, the Caucus stated: “In light of the recent vote by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the Caucus reaffirms the importance of the economic and cultural ties between Wales and the United States of America.”

Historian Glanmor Williams argued that the nineteenth century was “a unique chapter in Welsh-American relationships.” As we prepare to leave the EU, the next chapter in the Cambrian-American Special Relationship can help Wales seize new valleys of opportunity as the Celtic dragon prepares to take flight.