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The Deputy First Minister's Overseas Visit to New York

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Mike German, Deputy First Minister and Minister for Rural Development and Wales Abroad
During July I undertook an overseas visit to New York in my role as Minister for Rural Development and Wales Abroad. The visit was arranged to coincide with the Fancy Food Fair to which I was invited by the Welsh Development Agency Food Directorate.

The Directorate used the show to promote a range of quality Welsh products and launch a new initiative aimed at increasing the quality of Welsh cheese sold in the USA.  My visit to the Food Fair provided an opportunity to see at first hand the displays of Welsh produce and witness the way in which new contacts were developed and existing links strengthened. I was also able to view the Welsh display in relation to competitor nations from around the World. I have a number of ideas in this regard that I will be discussing with the agencies concerned.

Following my visit to the Fair I attended a working reception hosted by Somerdale Dairies International. The reception was attended by a wide range of buyers, producers, agents and associated marketing and support people. My discussions have given me a clearer picture of the opportunities and challenges presented to Welsh manufacturers wishing to develop market links in the USA.

I was keen to see our produce from Wales at the point where the end user comes into contact with it.
A call on Zabar’s Deli on Broadway provided such a venue. Zabar’s has an international reputation for its stock of speciality fine foods. Amongst their large range of food was a display of Welsh cheeses which included a wide selection of those produced by South Caernarfon Creameries Ltd. Seeing our Welsh produce in this prestigious outlet reinforced the view that there is clear potential for our producers.

A meeting with officials of the Wales Tourist Board and representatives of the travel press was an often testing but valuable briefing exercise for me in that it brought home what the American tourist was looking for and expected from Wales as a holiday destination and Wales’s profile in the US. I also gained some understanding of the potential market for us and an indication of the revenue which Wales could gain  from such business. Clearly there are opportunities but also problems not least the current reservations of Americans to fly following September11.

I am most grateful to Sir Thomas Harries KBE CM, HM Consul-General and Director-General,Trade and Investment for meeting me. Our meeting served as a  reminder of the services available from the Consulate and I was able to reassure him that the proposed Wales International Centre would serve as a compliment to the services provided by the Consulate not a substitute.

My schedule also allowed me time to visit Ground Zero to pay my respects to those who lost their lives and were affected by the 11 September tragedy. Even some 10 months later the scene is still hard to take in.

The Foodie Awards are an acknowledgement of manufacturers achievements in the American market arranged by Food From Britain.  I was pleased to be invited to the presentation ceremony and meet with the companies who participated in them. This also gave me the opportunity to gain at first hand information on some of the matters of concern to the industry.

My final day in New York began with a stimulating discussion with Sir Howard Stringer of Sony. We discussed at some length the problems faced by Welsh companies wanting to make in roads into the US market and opportunities for raising the profile of Wales in North America. I came away with a number of ideas that we will discuss further with Howard in due course.

I also met with William Kimball of New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and discuss various aspects of our rural economies. We established our problems are very similar and were able to identify how we had begun to overcome them. Clearly there is much we could learn from each other and it will be of benefit to us both for dialogue between us to continue.

I am grateful to the WDA for arranging for me to visit the proposed site of the new Wales International Centre at the Chrysler Building. This will provide a most impressive base for the Welsh agencies operations in New York.

Karen Persichilli-Keogh is the Chief of Staff at Hilary Clinton’s Office in New York. I had a most informative meeting with Karen during which we explored possibilities for Hilary to help raise Wales’s profile in North America and Karen raised several areas which might be worthy of further consideration.

My last official function of the day was meeting with the organisers of the planned Welsh Film Festival in New York. I was given a delivered run through the proposals that will shortly be presented to Jenny Randerson.

The event in the huge New York exhibition centre is an opportunity for Wales’ producers and wholesalers to meet the extensive US market place.
There are ways in which Wales can have a deeper involvement in future – particularly in seeking awards for product, design and innovation. These all play strongly with the US audience. Above all we must ‘ tell the story’ about where our food is produced.
Identifying place with product is a powerful way of encouraging more consumers with Welsh products.

There are significant opportunities to be followed through from this visit :-

-Welsh crackers to go with the Welsh cheeses
-Linking the issues in the mainly agricultural state of New York and finding common cause with Hilary Clinton
-Building on high profile events in the business and showbusines worlds in the US with the help of Sir Howard Stringer

However, most importantly, we must link all our initiatives together and play a truly Team Wales approach.