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Welsh export levels boom – but can it last?

Welsh exports such as slate are up by more than 33 per cent - but is it sustainable?

High quality slate from Penrhyn quarry has been shipped around the world for centuries – and now it’s experiencing an export revival.

Demand for its roofing slates is at its strongest for half a century. The company Welsh Slate employs 210 people and turns over 17 million pounds a year.

Its managing director Alan Smith says is literally building on its past.

“The biggest single change has been sales to Australia which have increased four-fold in the last two years,” he said.

“Australia was a large export market for Welsh slate 150 years ago. Now some of those buildings are in need of repair and we are sending slate there for heritage work.”

Ten thousand tonnes of roofing slates are exported from Penrhyn quarry every year. Now Welsh Slate wants to scale up its overseas business and secure new markets, particularly Germany, as demand for its products in the UK remains weak due to the stagnant onstruction sector.

Over the last 12 months, Welsh exports have gone up by 33.8 per cent and are worth 12 billion pounds to the economy here. Wales also outperformed all the devolved nations and English regions.

Sectors as diverse as New Technologies through to Agriculture are all benefiting from strong overseas demand – in part due to the weak pound. Conwy Valley Systems Ltd – a small geoscience company – has developed an innovative device for the oil and coal industries. Exports are the backbone of its knowledge-based business and it supports Welsh jobs by manufacturing its product in North Wales too.

Dr Barrie Wells founded the company and says he is constantly looking for new markets.

“We’ve got the product in use on six continents and, at the last count, 42 countries. Our biggest markets are USA, India, Australia and Vietnam,” he said.

David Rosser from CBI Wales says Welsh companies can be too dependent on traditional overseas markets and need to secure new ones in growing economies like India, Russia and Brazil – or else risk being left behind.

Exports are increasingly important to the health of the Welsh job market, going some way to filling the gap as growth in Wales and the UK falters.

Carole Green is the business correspondent for ITV Wales. You can follow her on Twitter: @ITVCaroleGreen

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