The word ‘Jersey’ means different things to different international audiences. To foreign visitors to the Island it may conjure up green lanes, beaches, and the well-preserved architectural remnants of centuries of trade and war. To global businesses it may mean blue-chip financial, legal and accounting services. For gastronomes it could be Michelin-starred restaurants and the world’s best potatoes. In the world of fashion it’s a type of knitted fabric – another reminder of one of our former boom industries. To an African farmer Jersey almost certainly just means one thing: a really good dairy cow. To many, of course, Jersey is most closely associated with offshore finance, which (as discussed below) comes with reputational negatives as well as positives.
Jersey’s international personality is extremely important to its economic future, and also influences the way Islanders perceive themselves. Jersey is by no means a ‘one trick pony’, yet some Policy Board interlocutors felt that the popular international view of the Island is unfairly negative and one-dimensional compared to similar pro-business jurisdictions such as Singapore, Switzerland and Ireland. In the long term, the Board concluded that the sympathy and regard in which we are held internationally, and our own sense of national pride, depend on us being known for more than tax neutrality and financial services.
The Board proposed several ideas to strengthen Jersey’s international personality, and demonstrate the many ways we act as a force for good in the world in addition to facilitating its commerce and investment. The first is simply that we should highlight and celebrate our distinctiveness as a country, promoting the fact (in the words of the 2007 agreement with the UK’s Lord Chancellor) that ‘Jersey has an international identity that is different from that of the UK’ and that we are a ‘stable and mature democracy with its own broad policy interests and which is willing to engage positively with the international community across a wide range of issues.’
This involves clarifying our constitutional status, and also identifying which international organisations (such as UN and Commonwealth bodies) and agreements we are currently signed up to and where we need to increase our representation. Currently, our relationships with international organisations varies from full membership to observer status to a situation where we struggle to be heard at all. Frequently Jersey requires some form of permission from the UK to exercise its international personality, but the situation is extremely confusing and there is currently no central record of which treaties or agreements apply to us (although this work is underway). This hampers our ability to be heard, not only in matters such as trade and tax but across a wide range of international issues, from biodiversity to human rights, from climate change to medicinal cannabis
The message that we are a distinct polity which takes its international personality seriously would also be assisted by recreating an independent External Relations department, which since 2018 has been folded into a larger less-focused department. No other country conducts its diplomacy through an ‘Office of the Chief Executive’, and as one former Minister noted, this makes us sound like a UK local authority.
The Board’s second strand of ideas involved changing and expanding the narrative about Jersey. If the slur of ‘tax haven’ must be lived with for the foreseeable future, let others also associate us with dairy cows, fintech, philanthropy, conservation, impact investment, Jèrriais, international development, innovation, and a unique blend of French, English and other cultures. The Board observed that External Relations already runs several laudable initiatives to project a more holistic and positive image of the Island abroad, although noted with concern that its dedicated ‘Bilateral Programme Fund’ which funds many of these was under threat financially. The Board also commended the work of Jersey Overseas Aid in demonstrating the Island’s credentials as a good global citizen, particularly as its new areas of focus (Dairy, Conservation and Financial Inclusion) so closely reflect three of Jersey’s existing strengths.
The Board recognised that many Jersey institutions can also project ‘soft power’, including Parishes, sports clubs, schools, environmental charities, and organisations involved in arts, heritage and culture, and suggested these efforts be supported and coordinated more systematically. Two simple ways of contributing to this would be to develop specific materials to assist outward-facing bodies to tell a coherent and positive story about the Island, and to expand the nascent ‘Jersey Ambassadors’ initiative to more locations and more sectors, involving figures from the worlds of sport, business, hospitality and the arts. There is a large reserve of goodwill towards Jersey among the Island’s diaspora and those who have lived or worked here, which can be nurtured and utilised.