An opportunity presented itself to China when Donald Trump signed an executive order to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) this week. As Japan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are busy discussing how to salvage the TPP – which might involve letting China join – other Asia-Pacific nations are looking at alternatives such as the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The latter is a mega-regional economic agreement between China, Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Next to China, Vietnam stands to gain too. In light of Trump’s proposed plan to impose a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese goods, Vietnam – whose biggest export market is the US – hopes to fill the gap. As one door closes, another one opens.
There are two opposing views of the US right now. To some President Trump’s talk of “carnage” and porous borders at his inauguration was simply more pedalling of a dystopian message. To others it was a joyous moment when the US’s ills were finally being confronted. What’s clear is that Trump is breaking the mould, which means that he is cosier to business leaders than perhaps any other commander-in-chief – as his recent meeting with industry leaders, including Dell, demonstrated. Economic positivity is also high: the latest Gallup poll shows economic confidence is at a nine-year peak, reaching its highest point since the pollster began the index. Baffling to some, obvious to others – expect more polarised reactions to come.
The splendid Santa Monica Sears building in California is about to get a new lease of life as its owners prepare to shutter the struggling shop and turn it into a mixed-use creative-and-retail space. The two-storey Late Moderne-style department store, designed by architect Rowland Crawford in 1947, was built just as strip malls were gaining momentum. Now the reverse trend is taking hold around the country. This month Seritage Growth Properties – the property-investment trust created by Sears to oversee the company’s properties – announced that the shop will close down in April before the redevelopment begins. Fortunately, thanks to being granted historic-landmark status in 2004, the building’s unique architecture won’t be lost.
Weather is difficult to predict; earthquakes are even harder. Now Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA) is being sued by the families of five people who died when Mount Ontake – a 3,000-metre volcano on the border of the Nagano and Gunma Prefectures — erupted in 2014, killing 58 people. The legal case, launched this week, centres on the failure of the government agency to raise warning levels even though there had been more than 130 seismic incidents at Ontake in the days preceding the eruption. The plaintiffs argue that the government put the local economy ahead of safety by failing to warn climbers that the volcano was showing increased activity. Japan has 7 per cent of the world’s volcanoes and many small towns rely on the income from hot springs. While nobody wants to deter visitors – and the money they bring – public safety has to be top priority.
The global watch industry is going through tough times but amid the hand-wringing and alarmism you may have missed a more optimistic story: small independent brands are actually going through a renaissance. This week we focus on the journey of four London friends who pushed aside their day jobs to create a UK-designed Swiss-made watch company from scratch. Two founders of Farer, Ben Lewin and Jono Holt, share their story.