The Model Society

HERE IS THE CLOCK, THE TRUMP(TON) CLOCK. Telling the time, steadily, sensibly; never too quickly, never too slowly. Telling the time for Trump(ton)…!

Here are the cabinet members (and part-time firemen). They rush around putting out fires mainly started by themselves… hither and thither they go… arguing with each other and driven to distraction by the driver of the fire engine, whose eyes are always closed.

So why is Mr Trump of Trump(ton) watching the clock? Let’s face it, no-one with so much power needs to be subtle over strategy. He has been visiting the world’s hotspots (including the UK) and doing what he can to strengthen the US position and publicly weaken that of its opponents. A US president borne of an aggressive private sector background does not need to view the world in terms of allies. Nor does he need them. First and foremost he views the world around him as competition. Yes, he delivers praise and compliments when it is in his best interests to do so. However, he’s not offering anything to anyone. Instead, he is making demands. For those who conduct their lives in public service, his strategy is more difficult to see, let alone cope with. It is not what we are used to seeing from our close allies.

I suggest that Trump is waiting for the tower clock to strike midnight. Midnight on 29th March 2019, the day when the United Kingdom formally exits the EU and is, to all intent and purposes, back on the periphery of European influence. A vulnerable, needy and somewhat dishevelled Britain. A Britain in need of friends with a reduced bargaining position, a depleted resource of international credit and a battered and bruised system of government.

Then – and only then – will our position be sufficiently weakened so as to be desirable to Trump. Our “back of the queue” status in terms of a US trade deal may well begin to soften at that point. Any negotiation over a deal would be accompanied by the same degree of wind sucking as one might expect from Mr Crockett the Garage Man, standing over a rusty motor with a shot engine and four flat tyres. If that is, indeed, Trump’s intention then maybe we should be saying good luck to him because if no- one else has spotted this risk then maybe we deserve everything we don’t get out of a future US trade deal?!

I dislike being political. However, the impact of the “America First” policy appears to be causing ripples in the gun trade and so it is enough for now to raise an eyebrow of concern. I don’t just mean the gun trade here. The US and many European countries have their own gun trades too and the market for both gun and shooting-related imports into the US is, frankly, huge.

Let’s take an example from within the heart of the US gun trade itself. In this case, the manufacture of gun safes and cabinets. The US market is well populated with US companies which manufacture these items and many are exported. They are made of steel and steel, as we know, has been a favourite topic of Trump in recent months. The introduction of US steel tariffs has given rise to a new strategy in terms of how safes and gun cabinets are being marketed to the world. One manufacturer I came across recently openly seeks to name and shame all of its fellow US competitors which either imports their steel from China or have transferred their production facilities out of the US entirely.

Some of those manufacturers are familiar to our shores and form part of our own gun trade. Their branding stands alongside our own. However, their products are, according to the new marketing strategy of the US company I came across, “less resilient, easier to penetrate and overall much weaker in comparison to safes made with US steel.”

To my mind, such a campaign in the UK would be at risk of much greater scrutiny and certainly in the past I have had to engage with the Advertising Standards Authority over much less. It did, however, lead me to question what the concept “resilience” across the pond might entail and how it might differ from, say, our own approach.

To be fair the US has the space, scale, resource and overall derring-do to test something for resilience in a spectacular and highly watchable manner. They could, for example, chain a safe to the back of a huge tractor and drag it across 50km of rocky mountainous terrain until the hinges snap or the door inevitably falls off and no doubt make a six-part mini TV series out of the process.

The UK’s approach, on the other hand, is much more likely to be modest in terms of its scale and budget. I imagine it would be comprised of something akin to a Chippy Minton-type with a flat cap and leather apron in an oily workshop with plenty of tea and time on his hands. Armed only with a Phillips screwdriver, a crowbar, a handheld drill and a small bottle of potent acid with a dropper – he would patiently gain entry while offering little in the way of public entertainment other than the occasional wry smile.

Thankfully, so far, the current US position does not appear to have had a major direct or widespread impact on the gun trade in the UK – guns themselves do not appear to be on Trump’s hit list per se – but this could so easily change if we are not sensitive to the aspiration of Trump to strengthen the US global economy at the expense of others.

From a quasi-legal perspective whatever the political reasoning behind steel or product tariffs and the marketing and price distortions which can result from them, guns and their related security products often need to meet legal, contractual and regulatory criteria for them to be deemed safe, durable, of satisfactory quality and fit for their intended purpose – whether for an internal or export market. As long as they achieve that, manufacturers have the freedom to source raw materials from wherever is best suited to their particular needs.

While, in an aggressively competitive market, it is open for companies legitimately to focus their brands around a home market for materials, one needs to bear in mind the danger that consumer choice in a niche sector such as the gun trade might be more easily influenced if the marketing trails are permitted to be openly hostile toward other members within the same trade. It is very much a double- edged sword and if we want to continue to be part of the export process to the US, dealing with the changing nature of the “Made in America” approach within the gun sector over there needs to be given careful consideration. The US reportedly imports around a third of its firearms. I have little doubt that US companies will be seeking to use Trump’s approach to trade and tariffs as a means to increase their market share at the expense of European made products – which have already captured a valuable part of their home market.

Thankfully, an all-out trade war with the US seems to have been averted for now but one has to bear in mind that the EU is one of the few economies which has the clout to push back when faced with aggressive trade related tactics. As I have said, on 29 March 2019, the UK will no longer be an integral part of the EU trading force so we may need the hoses ready to put out a few more fires

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