Tuesday. 29/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Choppy waters

Back in July, unable to travel anywhere too far from Toronto, I went on holiday to Niagara Falls, one of Canada’s tourist hotspots, which is famous for the majestic waterfall it shares with the US as well as its gaudier tourist pleasures. The Canadian side of the Falls usually attracts some 12 million visitors a year and in 2020 the strangeness of being in a tourist town emptied of visitors was compounded by just how different life appeared to be on the other side of the Niagara River.

Over in Niagara Falls, USA, the storied Maid of the Mist tourist boats that depart for the belly of the Falls were stuffed to the gunnels with buoyant American holidaymakers. Canada’s counterpart tourist vessels were almost empty. It was a sight that represented just how differently life was unfolding south of the border during the pandemic. Our neighbour suddenly felt more distant – less familiar, perhaps, than they had before.

The border between Canada and the US is usually one of the world’s busiest land crossings: at its height some $2bn (€1.7bn) worth of trade passed through every day. Yet it has remained closed to all but essential traffic since March. It’s a restriction that, while supported by 90 per cent of Canadians, is no small feat of diplomacy too. “We were having to make really impactful decisions really quickly,” Kristen Hillman, Canada’s new ambassador to Washington, told me during an interview this summer. “I attribute that to the importance that both countries place on the relationship.”

The unprecedented part-closure of the border has in many ways been an appropriate symbol for the relationship at large over the past four years. It has compounded the differences between neighbours but, through unprecedented strife, has also highlighted what they share. A new year and a new administration in Washington might allow not only for the border to reopen but also for these most important of neighbours to be reconnected once again.

Image: Getty Images

Economy / Latin America

Area of concern

It has been a tough 2020 for Latin America. A battering from the coronavirus pandemic caused many of its economies to go into freefall and falling GDPs have been most pronounced in Peru, Ecuador, Mexico and Argentina. It has been the worst-affected region by the slump in foreign-direct investment (FDI), which is expected to be down 50 per cent for the year (the global trend doesn’t fare much better at 40 per cent), according to a recent study by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. FDI is likely to remain weak next year so Latin America should reduce its reliance on natural resources and take steps to make foreign investment more attractive in the longer term, says Miguel Ramirez, an economics professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. “It should focus more on efficiency – better education and infrastructure, and linkages with governments and companies abroad,” he says. Looking to invest in 2021? Ramirez considers three sectors to be well worth exploring – retail, banking and wind energy.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Uruguay

Lasting legacy

Tabaré Vázquez, the twice-elected former president of Uruguay, died earlier this month. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy, most notably for competent left-leaning governance. Vázquez was the first leftist elected in Uruguay and during his first term, starting in 2005, he was praised for steering the country out of a difficult economic crisis. His mix of pro-business policies and anti-poverty programmes proved popular and effective, paving the way for the election of his ally José Mujica and then for Vázquez’s own return for a second term in 2015.

He leaves behind a wealthier and more stable country than he inherited: the majority of Uruguayans can now define themselves as middle-class, while a raft of progressive laws passed in the past 20 years stand in contrast to some of its neighbours. It’s a legacy that even Uruguay’s new centre-right leader Luis Lacalle Pou will seek to build on rather than demolish as he leads the country in the new year.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Vancouver

Support act

How can cities support their small businesses? It’s something that should be on the agenda of every municipal authority as the new year draws closer. We’ve already seen some promising examples. The City of Vancouver, for instance, was set to introduce a ban on plastic bags and require businesses to charge customers for using disposable cups from Friday. But recognising the brutal impact that the pandemic has already had on F&B businesses, the city council has passed a motion that will delay the policy until 2022. Sure, it’s a tiny measure but if more cities reassessed the many ways in which they can support their small and medium-sized enterprises, it could go a long way towards making 2021 a year of proper recovery.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Florida

Train set

Earlier this year we suggested that train travel might get a green light in 2021 because the US will have “Amtrak Joe” as president. But there’s another more animated mover in the rail business: Walt Disney World Resort is set to get its very own train station. Last month, the Magic Kingdom announced that it had reached an agreement with rail operator Brightline to build a train station at nearby Disney Springs. It’s part of a multi-billion dollar expansion of rail lines in Florida: Brightline already runs an eastern Florida line from Miami to West Palm Beach, which it also plans to connect to Orlando International Airport (about 30km away from Disney Springs) by 2022. An expansion to Tampa in the west is also in the works. The news is another sign that the US might finally be getting serious about trains. And it’s music to the ears of parents caught promising children a trip to Disney once the pandemic is over.

M24 / The Menu

Best of 2020

A round-up of our favourite interviews and reports from some of the world’s best restaurants in 2020.

Monocle Films / Finland

The home of the Finnish art scene

We tour the breathtaking studios of artists’ residence Lallukka in Helsinki, which hasn’t changed its purpose since it was completed in 1933. The landmark functionalist building offers spaces at low rents so that its tenants can focus on one thing: making art.

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