By the time you read this I will be in North America, on a five-day official visit to the US and Canada.
This will be my third visit to the continent as First Minister, and each time I go, I am more aware than ever of the importance of maintaining strong links with our neighbours across the pond.
Of course, the ties between Scotland and North America go back hundreds of years.
Many of Scotland’s most famous sons such as Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie and John Muir made their names in the US – and are still revered on both sides of the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, Canada’s first Prime Minister John A McDonald was born in Glasgow – and another Scots-Canadian, the businessman Thomas McKay, helped found its capital city Ottawa.
In fact, census data suggests that the number of Americans and Canadians claiming Scots ancestry far exceeds the population of Scotland itself – that is a great opportunity for our country.
But our relationship isn’t simply based on our shared history and longstanding friendships – trade has always been, and continues to be, a key factor.
Figures published just last week show that the USA is Scotland’s top export destination country, with an estimated £5.5 billion of exports in 2017 – up by 11.1% from the previous year. That is great news for businesses across Scotland, and the jobs that depend on them.
Meanwhile, Canada continues to be a top 20 export destination, worth £580 million in 2017.
But frankly, our international successes shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us. For a relatively small country, Scotland punches well above its weight in terms of international recognition – our food and drink, our tourism, our academic institutions, our life sciences industries and our renewable energy potential are just some of the economic strengths that we have to offer the world.
And during my busy five-day visit, I’ll be working hard to promote Scotland as a place to live, work, study and do business.
While in Washington DC, I will be delivering a speech at Georgetown University on Scotland’s place in the world, and meeting key businesses to discuss their current investment in Scotland as well as explore future opportunities.
During my visit I’ll also be exploring how we can work more closely with like-minded state administrations on tackling climate change. This has been a key priority for the Scottish Government and was a focus of my visit to California in 2017, where I signed an agreement with Governor Jerry Brown.
Scotland is in many ways seen as a world leader in tackling climate change and this presents huge opportunities for us to share knowledge and expertise, with the potential to deliver significant economic benefits at home. Low carbon technologies already employ more than 50,000 people in Scotland – for a country of our size, that’s a significant number, and growing it is a priority.
When I am in New York, I will hold meetings at the United Nations. One of the things we will discuss is the work we do with the UN – working with UN Women in areas of international development and equality, supporting Unicef’s work on child poverty, and running a special programme to help train women in peace-making negotiations in troubled parts of the world.
My final leg of the visit is in Canada, where I will be the first First Minister to visit in over ten years. Canada is a market of increasing importance for Scotland and I will have the pleasure of opening the Scottish Government’s new office in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, where we will for the first time have a team of representatives based there, working on a daily basis to boost economic links that will benefit Scotland
Finally, I will visit Toronto, a city with great business links for Scotland – while I am there, I will have a range of meetings to discuss partnerships in trade and, just as importantly, social enterprise.
This visit is part of the Scottish Government’s international strategy to boost trade and investment, and strengthen educational and social links with priority countries worldwide. Scotland has always been an outward looking country and we have limitless potential for international partnerships. That is why it’s essential that we do all we can to promote our strengths and increase opportunities for investment and collaboration. Quite simply, these links can help to grow our economy here at home, create jobs and increase our national prosperity.
There are less than two months to go until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, and it beggars belief that the UK Government is still unable to say what our future trading relationship with Europe, or indeed the rest of the world, will look like.
Scotland has always been an open, welcoming nation, keen to collaborate with others across the globe – and in the midst of all the Brexit chaos, it’s more important than ever that we send a message to the world that we are open for business. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing this week.