Americas: disruption expected as teachers protests across Mexico
Key Risks: civil unrest; commercial damage; disruptive blockades
In Mexico, teachers’ unions are expected to demonstrate in the capital Mexico City to protest a series of grievances during Teacher’s Day on 15 May. Government officials announced the deployment of around 2,500 police officers to monitor the demonstrations which are expected to affect transit and could potentially lead to localised violent incidents. The CNTE teachers’ union announced demonstrations will also take place in Tuxla Gutierrez, the capital of the southern Chiapas state, and across Guerrero state. In 2016 a wave of CNTE-led protests led to disruptive and often violent road blockades, localised commercial damage and the occupation of government buildings. Although protests on 15 May are unlikely to escalate and protract, the risk could increase should they be repressed or should their demands be ignored by the federal government, particularly in the southern states of Chiapas and Guerrero.
Asia-Pacific: Duterte and Xi’s meeting will not mask rising South China Sea tensions
Key Risks: external conflict; maritime disruption
On 19 May Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, will meet with Xi Jinping of China to commence the countries’ bi-annual discussions of sovereignty issues in the South China Sea. Bilateral relations took a surprisingly conciliatory turn last year after Duterte came to power and largely dismissed a ruling in the Philippines’ favour from an international court in the Hague that called China’s so-called ‘nine-dash line’ illegitimate. Instead of pushing for a Chinese withdrawal from its militarised man-made islands such as Fiery Cross Reef, Duterte courted Chinese investment in exchange for acquiescence. This line of argument is proving difficult, with Chinese vessels increasingly entering Philippines waters and passing near areas such as Bentham Rise. In response, the Philippines has increasingly moved to increase its military presence in the area. While both sides will likely emerge from the 19 May meeting claiming to have an understanding, tensions will remain high.
Eurasia: Georgia-China free trade agreement sign of One Belt One Road push
Key Risks: all
Georgia signed a free trade agreement with China on the sidelines of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit that will lift almost all tariffs and trade barriers between the two countries. Chinese firms have significantly increased investment into Tbilisi and into Georgia’s ports of late. Beijing will likely pursue further such agreements in Central Asia as part of the OBOR project, although this will prove more difficult particularly given Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan’s membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union. Tbilisi is likely to keep using free trade agreements to drive itself into a position to become a trade linchpin for the region. It already has a free trade agreement with the EU and launched free trade talks with New Delhi in April.
Europe: Agrokor’s troubles loom on likely Croatian election
Key Risks: non-payment; political instability
Croatian state-appointed Agrokor manager Ante Ramljak said that subsidiaries of the failed firm would have to be resold in order to repay debts to creditors and suppliers. Agrokor is Croatia’s largest employer and a lynchpin of the wider Western Balkan economy. Ivica Todoric formally handed over control of the company to the state on 7 April and although he remains majority owner, the revelations could see public sentiment increase for charges to be brought against him. Agrokor’s 2015 revenue of EUR6.5bln represented nearly 16 per cent of Croatia’s GDP. The company’s restructuring will remain drawn out and although Ramljak announced no major layoffs at this time, they are likely over the medium term and could harm confidence in the government and prompt protests. These will exacerbate concerns over early elections, which are likely to take place as early as next month given junior coalition partner MOST’s withdrawal from government last month.
MENA: Rouhani second term likely despite struggling economy
Sectors: economy; domestic businesses
Key Risks: currency fluctuations; import bans; political stability
On 19 May Iran holds presidential and local elections for the first time simultaneously. President Hassan Rouhani has an advantage as the incumbent – since 1981 all presidents have served two terms. In 2013 Rouhani won an overwhelming landslide with 50.88 per cent of the vote, 35 per cent ahead of the nearest challenger, conservative Tehran Mayor Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf. Playing on the weaknesses of the October 2015 nuclear agreement and ridiculing Rouhani’s forecast of US$50bln of foreign investment in its wake, conservatives have put a solid dent in Rouhani’s lead. Despite this, Rouhani remains on course to win, although with a much smaller margin than in 2013. However, if the economy and living standards do not improve sharply in his second term, Iran will almost certainly vote in a conservative president come 2021.
Sub-Saharan Africa: mutiny enters fourth day as gunfire erupts across Cote d’Ivoire
Key Risks: violent clashes; further mutinies; civil unrest; business interruption
A standoff between mutinying soldiers and government loyalist troops in Cote d’Ivoire continues, with a security force operation underway in the second largest city, Bouaké. Heavy gunfire erupted in Bouaké, commercial capital Abidjan, and cocoa hub Daloa after the military gave mutinying soldiers an ultimatum to drop their pay demands and end a revolt. The rebellion began on 12 May when soldiers fired shots into the air and blocked roads leading into major cities after President Alassane Ouattara announced the government had reached a compromise over unpaid bonuses. At least eight civilians, protesting against the mutiny, were injured in Bouaké. The coming days will prove a vital test in how much Ouattara is able to rely on a disciplined and loyal military, with significant reform remaining a priority in order to avoid further mutinies. Banks, schools, embassies and many businesses across the country remain closed.