First Minister Carwyn Jones has announced the expansion of the Welsh Government's overseas operations to boost trade and inward investment post-Brexit.
Speaking on Wales after Brexit at The Forum annual lecture, he revealed how the Welsh Government will open offices in Canada, France, Germany and Qatar next year to help protect existing markets, pursue new trade and investment opportunities and promote Wales to the world.
The Forum is a collaboration between Cardiff School of Management, Berry Smith, Kilsby Williams, Santander Corporate & Commercial and Effective Communication. It provides an annual public lecture and invitation-only business breakfast club with guest speakers who have included Sir Terry Matthews; and meets three times a year.
Germany and France are Wales' two biggest European markets in terms of trade and investment. A quarter of all Welsh exports go to Germany, worth £2.9bn last year alone, while 90 German companies are based in Wales employing over 12,000 people.
France is Wales' second biggest export destination, with the value of Welsh exports to France standing at £1.9bn in 2016. In addition, there are an estimated 80 French-owned companies in Wales employing over 8,100 people.
For the year ending June 2017, Canada was the 9th largest market for Welsh exports with a value of £392 million, an increase of almost 70% over the previous 12 months. Canada is also in Wales' top 5 investing markets, with companies such as Montreal-headquartered CGI having offices in Wales.
The Middle East is a growing commercial market which has seen strong growth as an export destination for Welsh companies. Last year, Qatar was the 15th largest market for Welsh exports, worth £172 million to the Welsh economy, which is an increase of over 15% on the previous year.
Wales has achieved record breaking inward investment results for three years running, attracting major companies - including GE Aviation and General Dynamics - against the backdrop of Brexit and competition from the largest economies in the world.
Welsh Government overseas teams promote Wales as a potential investment destination and have helped secure some Wales' largest foreign investments.
For Welsh exporters, Welsh Government's overseas teams play a role in investment decisions, providing knowledge of markets and trends, business climate and culture as well as ways to win new business. Overseas teams also offer access to networks and businesses and facilitate connections with influencers and decision makers.
During the major speech, Carwyn Jones said: "Increasing our presence in these key markets allows us to pursue new trade and investment opportunities, build networks and promote Wales to the world. This has never been more important as we face a future outside of the European Union.
"Leaving the EU will create challenges, as well as opportunities. That is why we are expanding our presence in Europe and across the globe, so we are able to meet with, and attract, new investors and sell Welsh goods to overseas customers.
"As well as identifying new and exciting opportunities, we are working hard to protect our existing markets. Two thirds of Welsh exports go to European countries, while a third of all Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) comes from the EU.
"If we turn our backs on the Single Market and shut ourselves off from vital European trading markets, it would be hugely damaging to our economy. Maintaining and increasing investment from companies already in Wales is vitally important to us and dedicated resource in these countries will maximise the investment opportunities that these markets bring."
Paying tribute to colleague Carl Sargeant, the First Minister continued: "What we are witnessing now is one of the most turbulent and volatile periods of politics.
"A period of change and instability that will have a profound impact on our economy, our society and our politics for a generation and more.
"In thinking about this lecture and the title for tonight's speech – Wales' future post-Brexit - I felt it was important we took the opportunity to look beyond the negotiating lines and the policy papers. Brexit may not have been my choice. I voted for us to maintain our membership of the EU. But it is happening.
"And we now need to use the debate to build the future we want to see for our country in the coming years."
Siân Rees, Director of Enterprise at Cardiff School of Management commented, "It was an honour to welcome the First Minister to deliver The Forum 6th Annual Lecture. As a school, we are committed to exploring all aspects of the debate; it was extremely useful to hear the Welsh Government's approach to engaging, even more fully, with the wider world post-Brexit."