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Cities need post-Brexit trade deal, says thinktank

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All but one of the UK’s largest urban areas depend on the European Union for their export trade meaning there is an urgent need for them to have a sound post-Brexit trade deal in place, according to the Centre for Cities.

The thinktank’s annual Cities Outlook survey said this should be the government’s “top priority” in negotiations.

It defined ‘cities’ as 62 ‘primary urban areas’ based on urbanisation rather than council boundaries.

Of these, all but Hull had the EU as their main export destination, while 41 sold at least half of their exports to the EU.

According to Centre for Cities, even a 10% post-Brexit fall in exports to the EU would require the number of exports sent to China to nearly double - or a 31% increase to the USA - to make up the money lost.

Exeter was the city most reliant on EU with 70% of its exports going to member states, while Derby was the least at 25%.

In total, 46% of exports went to the EU, three times as much as to the USA, and five times more than India, Japan, Russia, South America, and South Korea combined.

Cities in the north and midlands mainly exported goods, while those in the south relied more on services.

Centre for Cities’ chief executive Alexandra Jones said: “Securing the best possible EU trade deal will be critical for the prosperity of cities across Britain, and should be the government’s top priority as we prepare to leave the single market and potentially the customs union.

“While it’s right to be ambitious about increasing exports to countries such as the US and China, the outcome of EU trade negotiations will have a much bigger impact on places and people.”

She said ministers should seek trade deals covering as many sectors as possible, rather than only high-profile industries based in a small number of places.

The think-tank said industrial strategy should be based on making places attractive to business rather than on trying to guess which sectors would thrive, giving the example that a decade ago few would have foreseen the growth of the smartphone app industry.

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