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Clive Memmott, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce shares his concern that the UK could be overlooking some of the most bountiful trade deals by overlooking existing relationships with Ireland and neighbouring European nations.

When we hear the government’s rhetoric about expanding our horizons to more distant, emerging and high-growth markets post-Brexit, the inference that our near neighbours in Europe are somehow less important concerns me greatly. Long-established relationships increasingly seem to be branded as 'low-growth' markets.

43% of the UK’s exports go to the EU. Yes it was 46% two years ago and 54% twelve years ago, but still, 43% of our international trade still goes to this huge, unified and handily-located market.

Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) are members of the Alliance of Metropolitan European Chambers. When we sit down with our colleagues from Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid, Turin, Dublin and elsewhere and they finish lambasting us about the chaos and uncertainty we have created through Brexit, we begin to talk constructively about the future of trade between our great countries and cities and one thing is always eminently clear: whatever the outcome of Brexit, our cities will continue to trade with one another.

The future of the trading relationship between Ireland and the UK has never been more important. If we leave the Single Market and the Customs Union the question of how to maintain an invisible border without putting a border in the Irish sea is arguably the number one issue that will steer what Brexit looks like. Aside from the significant potential implications for the union, Ireland is a key trading partner right on our doorstep, just like the rest of the EU.

11% of the UK’s total exports go to Ireland and 7% of our EU imports come from there. It seems as if there really is something to the 'gravity model' of international trade - where trade is correlates with geographical closeness. It is naïve to think that forging new trading relationships further afield – however important an opportunity this may be – will make up for any trade lost with our close friends. The impact of big international trade deals is much, much smaller than people think, certainly less that the impact of being aligned to the European single market.

11% of the UK’s total exports go to Ireland and 7% of our EU imports come from there.

Just before the referendum the Prime Minister and Irish Ambassador at the time, Enda Kenny and Dan Mulhall, visited my Chamber and we talked enthusiastically about growing the trade and investment between Ireland and the North West whatever the outcome of Brexit. Today, nothing has changed.

Our job is to get the message to Government that trade with our existing partners must continue to flourish, and must not be seen as the second or third prize compared to other 'high-growth' markets further afield. There is indeed a necessity to broaden and diversify our international markets but only a fool would neglect the opportunities just beyond our shores with trusted and reliable friends.