Wednesday. 20/10/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Elisabeth Braw

Shipping from home

“Soon may the Wellerman come/To bring us sugar and tea and rum,” sailors used to sing in the sea shanty “Wellerman”, which rather charmingly became a surprise lockdown hit in early 2021. This year sailors are struggling to deliver the massive amounts of goods that global consumers expect. That’s not just the result of a single mishap but of vast and complex global supply chains.

Ships now carry about 11 billion tonnes of goods a year, equivalent to about 1.5 tonnes for every person on the planet. Port workers swiftly unload ships’ cargo, load them with new containers and get the newly arrived containers onto trucks and rail carts. Any mishap can cause knock-on delays. That’s precisely what’s happening at the Port of Los Angeles, where dozens of vessels are now waiting to dock and about half a million containers have yet to begin their land journey. Chinese ports, where coronavirus outbreaks have prevented vessels from docking, have recently been causing similar disruptions.

The global shipping industry has turned the complex business of delivering goods around the world into such a phenomenally efficient operation that consumers have forgotten how easily something can go wrong. Indeed, most of us suffer from sea blindness: we don’t give any thought to container supply or ships being unable to dock. We forget that every ship needs crews and that few Westerners now go to sea. Today China, the Philippines and Indonesia supply the largest numbers of seafarers.

Instead of getting annoyed about delayed goods, we should be shortening supply chains. It is true that some goods and components can only be shipped from faraway countries but many other things that we habitually import are available closer to home, albeit sometimes at higher prices. Shorter supply chains bring fewer risks of mishaps, piracy and state-sponsored sabotage. This doesn’t mean that we should try to return to the self-sufficiency of previous centuries. But we should consider the effort and complexity that goes into importing from other countries and think about whether we could buy more homegrown goods instead. Do we really need oranges every day of the year?

Elisabeth Braw is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and columnist for ‘Foreign Policy’.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Italy

To the left

Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party is celebrating victory in mayoral elections in two of the country’s most important cities, Rome and Turin. The run-off votes on Sunday and Monday completed the party’s urban sweep after Milan, Naples and Bologna also elected centre-left mayors earlier this month. In Rome, Roberto Gualtieri (pictured), who was projected to win 60 per cent of the vote against the right’s Enrico Michetti, promised to “relaunch” the city and turn it into “a champion of the ecological transition”. In Turin, the Democratic Party’s Stefano Lo Russo was projected to win by a similar margin. Both cities saw incumbent Five Star Movement mayors defeated in the first round of this election, seemingly sounding the death knell for the party at a regional level. Some may see the centre-left triumph as a signal that Italy’s conservatives will suffer in the general election, which is due in two years. As Monocle’s culture editor (and resident Italian) Chiara Rimella told Monocle 24’s The Briefing, “The call of the populists seems to have lost a lot of pull, particularly in places like Rome, but there’s a long time still to come.”

Image: Getty Images

Science / UK

Under strain

Virologists and microbiologists are keeping a microscopically close eye on a subtype of a coronavirus variant, as the UK’s case numbers continue to rise. It’s thought that the AY.4.2 strain currently accounts for about 6 per cent of the UK’s new caseload. It is a close relative of the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India in October 2020.

“Many countries around the world have actually detected the new strain,” Chris Smith, a consultant virologist at Cambridge University, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing yesterday. “It might just be in the mix in the UK because it has lots of coronavirus cases and you’re seeing more of it. At the moment we have to hold our nerve because we are seeing cases but we are not seeing consequences. I think we have a fighting chance of Christmas staying on the table.”

Image: Getty Images

Media / Germany

New leaf

The 73rd Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) opens today under the moniker “Re:Connect”. Two thousand exhibitors and more than 300 authors from 80 countries have gathered in the central German city. As he opened proceedings, Juergen Boos, the fair’s director, was optimistic, speaking of a “golden age of publishing”. He sees the fair becoming even more international in the future, exhibiting books on subjects and by authors that the industry has traditionally ignored.

“I believe that the publishing industry has a growing interest for more diverse voices and stories,” Boos tells The Monocle Minute. This is an idea that Canada has brought to the fore at this year’s fair through its Singular Plurality pavilion, which combines virtual and physical elements in a poetic celebration of the country’s diverse cultures and languages. “Bringing the authors to the stage is the best part,” says Canada’s executive director, Gillian Fizet. “They’re the real guests of honour.”

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / Singapore

Come one, come all

The resumption of international travel into Asia took a big leap forward this morning when a plane from Amsterdam landed at Singapore’s Changi Airport. Operated by Singapore Airlines, the flight is the first step in the next phase of the city-state’s reopening. In the coming days, overseas visitors from the US, Canada, UK and five EU countries will be able to enter Singapore quarantine-free as part of so-called “vaccinated travel lanes”. This follows a successful pilot scheme involving Germany and Brunei that began in September. Since then, international observers have been watching to see if the Singaporean government could hold its nerve despite rising domestic case numbers. It has, and with Thailand launching a similar scheme on 1 November, Southeast Asia’s tourism industry could be about to receive a Christmas boon. With so many countries’ reopenings predicated on confidence, Singapore should be applauded for going ahead with the plans.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

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