Tuesday. 15/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Steel bind

Has the so-called new dawn in transatlantic relations really arrived? Today, EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen (pictured, on right, with Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron) and Charles Michel will meet Biden in Brussels. The two sides are expected to commit to ending a long-running dispute over aircraft subsidies by 11 July. Controversial tariffs on steel and aluminium introduced by Donald Trump will also be among the topics discussed – but real progress here is less certain.

The election of Biden was hailed across Europe – and beyond – as the start of a new chapter in relations with the US. Yet Biden has come under significant pressure at home from the steel industry and unions, several of which hold sway in key political regions, who are happy with the tariffs. And then there’s the even thornier matter of China. The superpower now produces more than half of the world’s steel and has managed to evade tariffs by selling it through third-party countries. In order to lift tariffs on foreign steel with minimal negative consequences at home, Biden and the EU will need to come to some kind of consensus on how to address China’s steel production.

Early drafts of an agreement expected to be released following the summit indicate that the US tariffs on steel and aluminium will be lifted – but not until the end of the year (partly to allow more time for a consensus on China to emerge). Though Biden is great at talking the talk of a reinvigorated relationship, it seems that making a quick and clean break from Trump’s “America First” policies – at least the ones that are still largely popular within the US – is easier said than done.

Image: Shutterstock

Retail / UK

Bid size

The Weston family, Irish-Canadian owners of UK department store Selfridges, will have spent the weekend reviewing a reported £4bn (€4.7bn) offer from an unknown buyer to purchase their group of stores, which includes a Birmingham outpost and the Brown Thomas group in Ireland. The Oxford Street flagship has been a London landmark since it opened in 1909. Does the possible sale mean the end of an era? That depends on whether the eventual buyers of the grand Edwardian baroque building occupied by Selfridges see their purchase as more of a property deal or an investment in retail. “It might be a way to acquire a jewel in the crown of a different kind of business,” Rebecca Tay, retail expert and brand consultant, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. Tay cited another London landmark saying, “Liberty, for example, is owned by a private equity firm and Harvey Nichols is owned by a Hong Kong businessman. They’re still the department stores we know and love.”

Image: Alamy

Health / Brazil

Calling the shots

Brazil’s vaccine rollout might not be the slowest in South America but its sluggishness is all the more significant given the country’s high number of cases and fatalities in recent months. But some states in the country are performing better than others. João Doria (pictured, on left), governor of Brazil’s richest state of São Paulo, has announced that his administration will beat its initial timeline and now aims to vaccinate all adults by 15 September.

Wealth is not the only factor as Brazil’s poorest state of Maranhão is also managing a quick rollout; its capital, São Luís, has become the first state capital to start vaccinating people under 30. The one thing that unites both states is that its respective governors, Doria and Flávio Dino, despite being of different political affiliations, have been aggressive in controlling the pandemic and critical of Jair Bolsonaro’s lax approach. Their faster vaccine rollouts are also a victory for rational and effective leadership.

Image: Getty Images

Climate / Switzerland

Rain on the parade

Switzerland’s ongoing experiment in direct democracy has thrown up another unexpected result. A national climate bill – one of five issues up for a referendum last weekend – was rejected by 51.6 per cent of voters, plunging Swiss climate policy into uncertainty. The bill, which had been years in the making, was supported by all but one political party and was key to Swiss commitments under the Paris accords to halve carbon emissions by 2030. In the short term, the government is likely to extend existing laws that would have been replaced by the comprehensive proposed bill. In the longer term, it needs to do a better job of addressing voter concerns; one reason for the rejection was a disproportionately high turnout in rural areas, where there is anxiety over the economic effects of climate-fighting measures. The government “cannot only rely on principles,” Claude Longchamp, a Swiss political scientist and analyst, told local media. “It must take the consequences for consumers into account as well.”

Image: Shutterstock

Business / Japan

Moving picture

After making cameras in Japan for more than 70 years, Nikon Corp is calling time on domestic production of its famed single-lens reflex cameras, which have been beloved by photojournalists ever since the Vietnam War. Nikon says it will now shift production of its top-end D6 from its Miyagi factory to Thailand from March 2022. Two lens-making plants will also close and the Miyagi site will switch to making camera parts. The move follows the sale of the camera business of Olympus Corp, another Japanese brand, to an investment fund last year. It’s a sad moment but Nikon, which fell into the red last year after a profitable 2019, is adamant that quality won’t drop. As one representative reportedly said, “We have a system to ensure exceptional quality no matter where our products are made.” Still, it’s the end of an era for fans of “Made in Japan” cameras.

Image: Getty Images

M24 / The Menu

The rise of English bubbly

The success story of English sparkling wine: we set out to discover what has made English bubbly so much better and popular in the last decade, and what the future holds. And of course, we offer some top recommendations too.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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