Dr Dan Boucher is a Prospective Welsh Conservative Assembly Member for South Wales West.
The best guarantee of proper investment in health and education in Wales is a growing economy, and central to the realisation of this goal is an energetic commitment to promoting trade between Wales and rapidly developing markets in other parts of the world.
During the Conservative Governments of the 1990s, Wales benefited hugely from the work of the late Sir Wyn Roberts (later Lord Roberts of Conwy), who served as Minister of State at the Welsh Office over many years, promoting trading opportunities between Wales and the world.
His work, and that of the different Secretaries of State he served, resulted in Wales claiming a staggering 15 per cent of the Foreign Direct Investment coming into the UK, even while we accounted for less than five per cent of the population. It was a tremendous success story.
In recent years, however, Wales’ share of UK Foreign Direct Investment has fallen dramatically, a situation that was not helped by the Welsh Government’s extraordinary decision to abolish the Welsh Development Agency, one of Wales’ most successful institutions.
Not surprisingly this has coincided with less than encouraging economic figures. In 2001 the Welsh Government’s ‘National Economic Development Strategy’ famously set itself the task of raising Welsh GDP per head to from 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the UK average, but it has instead fallen back to just 71.4 per cent of UK average GVA.
Last year, though, in the context of the implementation of the UK Government’s policy of cutting corporation tax, we saw 101 Foreign Direct Investment projects coming to Wales, five per cent of UK Foreign Direct Investment projects.
The opportunity of attracting even greater levels of investment in the coming years will be assisted significantly by the UK Government’s policy of introducing further cuts to corporation tax, making Wales a very attractive destination for investment.
Going forward, there is now a clear need to make the most of every opportunity to foster closer ties between Wales and different parts of the global marketplace. In this context I have been privileged to be involved in establishing the Wales Korea Connection, a new initiative that exists to promote closer economic, educational and political ties between Wales and South Korea.
We were very honoured to have our inaugural lecture given last month by Mr Chul Ki Ju, who was until last year the Senior Secretary for Foreign Affairs and National Security Advisor to the President of South Korea, President Park Geun-Hye.
In his address Mr Ju, who also served previously as the Director General of International Economic Affairs at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, expressed his surprise about the limited nature of economic links between Wales and South Korea.
This is certainly borne out by the answer to a recent Written Assembly Question (tabled by Suzy Davies AM) which revealed that export orders following a Welsh Government trade mission to Seoul in February 2015 were only worth £667,000.
While it is disappointing to realise that we have not made the most of this relationship to date, it is always good to be confronted with an opportunity, especially when – as Mr Ju noted – we have the advantage of lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20.
One useful synergy that has already made itself apparent pertains to tidal power. South Korea is the home of the largest tidal power plant in the world, an energy sector that is hugely important for Wales where tidal lagoons are proposed for a number of sites, including Swansea and Cardiff.
Mindful of this point of connection, we were particularly delighted when last week the Wales Korea Connection received a tour of the Sihwa Tidal Power Plant from its team leader, Mr Kim.
One of the most striking lessons from their experience is that they initially saw the venture simply as a green power plant and only subsequently came to recognise the tourism benefits. It is now regarded as an energy tourism project and attracts over 1.5 million tourist visitors each year. No other form of energy generation has that effect!
Of course the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon plans have involved excellent tourism proposals from the outset, but these are often overlooked. It was, therefore, very helpful to have the tourism point underlined so dramatically. This is a project whose value should not be assessed narrowly in terms of power generation.
South Korea clearly likes what it has seen and is currently building a second tidal power plant at Incheon which should be completed in June 2017. They also have plans for further projects.
There is an important linkage here, which should not be overlooked, to the current challenges facing the steel industry in that Liberty House, one of the key companies to have expressed an interest in Port Talbot, also has a stake in the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. If Liberty House was to take over the Port Talbot works they could use green energy from the Lagoon to provide electricity to power the plant.
The opportunity to foster closer ties between Wales and the thirteenth largest economy in the world will hopefully be to the mutual benefit of both nations going forward, and is exactly the kind of initiative that Wales should be looking to develop with other key economies.
Promoting inward investment is something that a Welsh Conservative administration in Cardiff Bay would particularly emphasise, as set out in Destination Cymru.
After 17 very long years of failed Labour Government we badly need a business-friendly Welsh Conservative administration, one that can work closely with the UK Conservative Government in Westminster to deliver serious economic growth for Wales.
Of crucial importance, this won’t just generate jobs but also the necessary funds to finance the strong public services that the people of Wales deserve.