Americas: further protests against the ‘gasolinazo’ expected across Mexico
Sectors: oil and gas; commercial; cargo transport
Key Risks: looting; violent civil unrest; disruptive blockades
In Mexico, further violent unrest over the controversial 14-20 per cent hike in gasoline and fuel prices effective since 1 January should be expected over the coming days. Protests against the so-called ‘gasolinazo’ have taken place in 29 of the country’s 32 states since early 2017. Six people have been killed and around 1,500 have been arrested across almost all Mexican states, with looting and vandalism affecting hundreds of stores across the country. The military had to intervene in several locations to control spiralling violence and property damage. The planned price deregulation is aimed at ending subsidies that for years have been a feature of government-set fuel prices and, despite widespread opposition, the measure is likely to stand. Overland travel disruption, violent blockades, demonstrations and associated violence should be expected, particularly in the vicinity of gas stations and fuel storage terminals.
Asia-Pacific: Abe looks to hold fraying US security alliance together
Key Risks: geopolitical security
Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, will visit the Philippines on 12-13 January, becoming the first head of government to visit since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power last year. While Duterte visited Japan and secured US$1.8bln of business deals as recently as October, relations between the countries have become considerably more important in the last few months, as Duterte has moved to embrace business and military ties with Japan’s geopolitical rival, China, and moved away from its main ally, the United States. While Japan is a key source of investment in the Philippines, its largesse has not matched that of China, which agreed to US$24bln worth of deals at the end of last year. Nevertheless, Abe will look to persuade Duterte not to abandon the network of US alliances in Asia, which would severely undermine the region’s security.
Eurasia: Trump comments on Russia hacking increase likelihood of sanctions being eased
Sectors: energy; financial services~
Key Risks: sanctions
Although President-elect Donald Trump conceded on 6 January Russia may have been involved in hacking related to the presidential elections, the following day he nonetheless doubled-down on calls for improved ties with Moscow. Trump specifically said anyone who did not support doing so was a ‘fool’. Trump’s Republican party is deeply split over the issue and it could prompt intraparty tensions as the president has significant leverage to individually determine foreign policy. Some Republican Senators, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have called for more sanctions. However, the main economic sanctions on Russia, those that limit investment in its oil sector and cooperation with its financial services sector, are due to expire 7 March unless President Barack Obama or Trump extends them, the latter of which is unlikely.
Europe: May indicates she will take Britain out of single market
Key Risks: frustration of process; barriers to trade
In an interview, Prime Minister Theresa May gave her firmest indication to date that the United Kingdom will leave the EU single market as a result of ‘Brexit’. While she did not explicitly say so, May stated that she would not look to retain ‘parts’ of the EU and implied controls over immigration would take a priority over market access. May did state she would seek to gain the best trade deal possible but was not questioned over the timing of such a deal with the two-year Article 50 process widely seen as too short to reach a comprehensive new trade arrangement given the EU’s previous negotiations with external partners for such deals have all taken far longer. The statement could cause some backlash from pro-business wings in her Conservative party, but a relatively ‘hard’ Brexit is increasingly likely.
MENA: prime minister faces the court of public opinion
Key Risks: political instability; impeachment; civil unrest
The second of two new scandals to hit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hit the press. The details of a recorded conversation between the prime minister and Arnon Mozes, the owner of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, were reported by Channel 2, claiming Netanyahu was negotiating for more positive press coverage in exchange for limitations and potentially the closure of Israel Hayom, a staunchly right-wing pro-Netanyahu rival to Yedioth published by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The new scandal has taken the Israeli public by surprise. Netanyahu’s position is now even more precarious than a week ago, although at present it is not clear whether there is sufficient appetite from the public for an impeachment process and potentially new elections. The development of the existing criminal investigation against the prime minister over the coming week may give an indication of future events.
Sub-Saharan Africa: troubles in the Niger Delta continue
Sectors: oil and gas
Key Risks: fines and settlements; civil unrest; pipeline vandalism
The UK’s High Court will determine whether Royal Dutch Shell will face trial in the UK over oil spillages in the Niger Delta. Delta communities, claiming domestic courts are unfit to try the case, are suing the company for pollution in the restive region. The claim follows a US$84m agreement Shell made with another community in 2015 after two pipeline leaks. Meanwhile, the militant group Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) stated they are prepared to resume attacks, declaring that no progress had been made during talks with the government. This also follows a statement issued by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that they had lost confidence in President Buhari. Attacks on oil and gas infrastructure will likely increase over the coming weeks. Both issues highlight the fragile and volatile security situation in the oil-rich region.