The Monocle Minute

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Wednesday 2 August 2017

Environment

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Turbo-charged talks

As elections loom can Berlin’s diesel summit hold carmakers to account without damaging a vital industry?

Nearly two years after the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke and seven weeks before Germany’s general election, a “diesel summit” is being held today in Berlin, bringing together car-industry executives and politicians (but not, notably, Angela Merkel). The timing of the meeting – where automakers are to confirm that they’ll be updating software to properly measure emissions – will ensure that politicians, concerned about their voter appeal, will want to take a tough line with executives whose businesses manipulated nitrogen oxide emissions tests. Yet they will also be mindful not to cause further damage to one of Germany’s most vital industries. Some of the measures that have been advocated in recent days include introducing class-action lawsuits, banning registrations for vehicles with combustion engines after a certain date and requiring carmakers to update hardware in their designs. Manufacturers, if no one else, will certainly be hoping such talk is more empty campaign rhetoric than fully fuelled proposal.

Trade

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Go your own way

While Nafta gets redrawn, Canada is forming new partnerships of its own – much to the chagrin of the US.

As the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) renegotiation talks between the US, Canada and Mexico loom, Canada has been pursuing a free-trade agreement with China. Documents released by Global Affairs Canada, the country’s foreign ministry, show that the Canadian government has been taking part in months of talks with business leaders and other stakeholders to cool concerns over a possible free-trade deal with Asia’s largest economy. Yet if industry is concerned it seems the public appetite for a trade deal is less equivocal: a recent opinion poll showed that 62 per cent of voters support a deal with China as a response to the protectionism emerging in the UK and the US. In the US meanwhile, senior officials have expressed concern that a potential deal could see China using Canada as a Trojan horse to gain access to the US market via Nafta.

Urbanism

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Swings and roundabouts

The healthy debate over Seattle’s high-rises (which could push out residents but rake in cash) will inform future builds.

Seattle’s city council has unanimously approved a change to the zoning of the city’s historic Chinatown International District, meaning that developers will now be able to build high-rises up to 82-metres tall. The move is contentious: part of the district is on the US’s National Register of Historic Places and has been home to lower-income residents and small, independent businesses for decades – many of whom could be priced out, critics say, if new-builds go ahead. However, the change in zoning comes with a caveat: a large proportion of the new-builds must include affordable units and developers will have to pay a fee if their projects do not meet these requirements. Analysts say these fees alone could bring in more than $13m (€8.8m) to city hall over 10 years. The public debate around the district’s future has been robust and will prove a useful template for future developments as the landscapes within our urban environments change.

Business

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Chip off the old Block

Singapore’s start-up machine is cranking it up a notch with another foreign hub.

Although Singapore offers one of the world’s densest and most efficient start-up ecosystems, to scale up many businesses need to look overseas for support. That’s why Block 71, one of its leading co-working and incubation spaces, headed by Singapore’s national university, launched a third base in Jakarta on Friday, after already strategically expanding to the US with two outposts near Silicon Valley in 2015. The new venue in the Indonesian capital’s Kuningan neighbourhood – an enclave of technology-driven businesses – is a solid jumping off point for Singaporean ventures keen to test ideas in the world’s fourth-most populous nation. Let’s hope this venture will also rub off on Indonesia’s entrepreneurial scene which lacks the dynamism it deserves.

From Monocle 24

Baio

The Sessions at Midori House

Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio has just released his second album under his solo name, Baio. ‘Man of the World’ is a collection of pop songs inspired by politics happening on both sides of the Atlantic after a turbulent 2016. He plays us a few tracks and tells Holly Fisher why he felt he needed to write the album.

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