Do you know what, I don’t know anything about the detail of Trump’s new ‘deal’ with China, designed to hit ‘pause’ on the escalating trade tensions between the two countries after a couple of years of rancour. But I am going to assume, given the president has described it as “the biggest deal anybody has ever seen” – his go-to pathological vernacular – it is probably average-to-poor. Trump claims of the two countries: “Together, we are righting the wrong of the past.” Should a Democrat win the upcoming presidential election, that phrase may have some potential for upcycling.
Anyhow, with not a little theatre and pomp, Trump and China’s chief trade negotiator, Liu He, signed the paperwork at a press conference packed with luminaries including Henry Kissinger, Blackstone private equity boss Stephen Schwarzman, Mastercard boss Aja Banga, and er…Ivanka Trump.
That the Chinese have presented the deal in a somewhat milder light could indeed be a sign of US victory on these matters – apparently it means the Chinese market will be more open to U companies and makes provision for purchases of $200bn in American goods and services. But still, so inured we now are to the Trumpian brand of self-promoting hyperbole, it is hard to summon the confidence to jump for joy at this ‘achievement’.
In the short term at least, it will mean investor confidence rises. Not because it is ‘problem solved’ – the majority of the tariffs imposed so far have not actually been lifted by the deal – but because it means there is dialogue and the situation is less likely to escalate. I suppose, in the round, that is to be celebrated – global investors were getting very worried about the state of play with trade relations between the two superpowers.
Retrenchment into protectionism only ends one way: both sides get poorer. We need fair winds, of the global trade variety, if this new decade is to be a prosperous and vigorous departure from the 2010s.
Caledonian Sleeper boss calls it a night
What a good idea it was, bringing back the Caledonian Sleeper train? Evoking romantic images of the Orient Express and a steam-powered past, the return of the iconic route with a fancy new fleet was an exciting and rare source of good PR for Britain’s bedevilled railway system. But the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley, as Rabbie Burns fans, and now a man called Ryan Flaherty, will doubtless attest.
Flaherty, who has been the boss of the Sleeper for just under two years, has decided to step down and make way for somebody new. Serco, which runs the franchise service, says it’s for family reasons. But anyone with an eye on the news since the service launched could hazard a guess that it might also have to do with chronic delays, night-time evacuations of carriages, a dodgy reservation system and buggered air-con.
It turns out passengers don’t like any of those things when they have forked out hundreds of pounds for a special experience, and as a result, it is the most moaned-about service in the UK according to the Office of Rail and Road. It had just under 400 complaints per 100,000 journeys in Q3 last year, more than triple the level of the previous year.
It’s at moments like this (in fact, to my shame, solely like this), that I am moved to delve further into the wisdom of the Scottish bard. Only to connoisseurs of his poetry is it known that immediately after his most famous phrase, which I shamelessly bastardised above, follows a line even more apposite: “An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain For promis’d joy.”