Wednesday. 20/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Love thy neighbour

Traditionally, the first international diplomatic visit a US president makes upon assuming office is a short skip across the border to Canada. Donald Trump upended that longstanding convention by visiting Saudi Arabia first and it appears that it won’t be reinstated under his successor, who takes office today. Joe Biden’s maiden international voyage will reportedly be to the UK for this summer’s G7 summit.

Canada has felt bruised in its relationship with its neighbour and closest trading partner over the past four years. The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (through which Canada previously fared well), the haphazard imposition of US tariffs on some Canadian exports and the online swipes at Canada’s leaders have all added to the strain.

Biden’s administration would do well to offer a conciliatory, outstretched hand to his counterparts north of the border. Instead, his plans, revealed earlier this week, to unilaterally scrap the Keystone XL pipeline project seemed to set a different tone and will have major ramifications for Canada. A co-ordinated stance with Justin Trudeau might have been helpful, given that the Canadian prime minister’s own attempts to balance his green agenda with the economics of Canadian gas and oil have proved a heavy millstone throughout his premiership.

Among other areas in which Canada’s government will be watching the Biden administration closely is over the fate of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive currently under house arrest in Vancouver at Washington’s request. The saga has frayed Canada’s own relationship with China and its future rests largely on what Biden chooses to do about the allegations levied during his predecessor’s term. Given how intertwined the US and Canada are economically, culturally and diplomatically, the relationship needs a more tempered and co-operative leader in Washington. After all, the challenges facing both countries will be anything but tempered for some time to come.

Health / Brazil

Immunisation race

Brazil’s first coronavirus vaccinations took place on Sunday but the potentially unifying moment has turned into a major dispute between state and federal officials. President Jair Bolsonaro, heavily criticised for his disastrous handling of coronavirus, was sidelined by São Paulo’s governor João Doria, who managed to begin immunisations first by arranging an independent partnership between Sinovac and Brazil’s Instituto Butantan. The effort resulted in an emotional photo op of Doria and the first person to be vaccinated in Brazil, a 54-year-old nurse called Monica (pictured, on right, with Doria). And it might as well have signalled the beginning of campaigning for the presidency in 2022. Bolsonaro, who in response brought forward the start of federal vaccinations to yesterday, is now on the back foot. But Doria also had to smooth things over with fellow governors irked by the lack of unity. Let’s hope that the political ploys don’t undermine Brazil’s immunisation programme, which in the past was considered among the world’s best.

Elections / Uganda

No contest

Bobi Wine faces no easy options. The Ugandan opposition leader (pictured) has sought to contest last week’s election, claiming irregularities at the polls. But the country’s electoral commission has declared Yoweri Museveni the winner, securing his sixth term in office. Proving the allegations is a challenge: security forces have surrounded Wine’s home and internet access for all Ugandans was shut down over the election period (it was restored yesterday).

Worried about a continued opposition crackdown, US ambassador Natalie Brown tried to visit Wine but was stopped by Museveni’s government, which accused the US of “subverting” the election. The question now is how far Museveni will go to retain control. “After 35 years in power it’s clear that the dynamics of Ugandan politics have changed along with the country’s relationship with its traditional allies, including the US,” says Kampala-based journalist Grainne Harrington. “What can 76-year-old Museveni offer his youthful population in the next five years?”

To hear more from Harrington, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Trade / Finland

Eastern promise

Finnish food producers were hard hit in 2014, when they could no longer export many products to Russia due to sanctions following the annexation of Crimea. But it seems that the growing appetites of China’s middle class has been their saving grace: new figures reveal that last year China became the biggest market for Finnish meat exports and the second biggest for overall food exports, topping the likes of Germany and Estonia. Producers believe that their success is partly down to a good reputation in China, which has attracted many restaurant chains as loyal customers. The growth has been particularly dramatic considering that Finnish companies only secured permits to sell their meat products in China a few years ago. Atria, one of Finland’s biggest exporters, says that it’s now looking at Japan and South Korea. If everything goes as planned, the company believes its exports to Asia could exceed those to all of Europe by the end of this year.

Culture / UK

Spread the needle

Accelerated coronavirus-vaccine rollouts have resulted in some unexpected venues offering the use of their premises. In the UK these include Brewdog, the Scottish pub chain, Heaven, a London nightclub, and even Salisbury Cathedral (pictured), which provided a church-organ serenade to patients receiving their vaccine. It begs the question why other empty and spacious cultural institutions are not currently being used. In Turin, the Castello di Rivoli Museum is set to become the first such Italian venue to undergo a similar transformation. It’s a perfect fit, considering that it possesses huge spaces for distancing, not to mention the all-important state-of-the-art climate controls. In a similar vein to Salisbury Cathedral, there will also be an exhibition on show for patients alongside a special audio piece created with the museum’s new role as a vaccine centre in mind. It’s a nice touch, particularly for those seeking distraction from the needle.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Max Porter

Writer Max Porter joins Robert Bound to talk about his new book, The Death of Francis Bacon. Porter, whose previous works includes the titles Lanny and Grief is the Thing with Feathers, discusses art, death and truth, and the impact of 2020 events on the writing of this book.

Monocle Films / Lisbon

The perfect home

How can architects, developers and builders make spaces that reflect our shifting needs and make us feel good about our lives? For Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference in Lisbon, Tom Morris explored the role of responsible house-building in keeping cities colourful, layered and full of life.

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