Americas: Brazil’s Petrobras to honour signed asset sales contracts, review other potential deals

Sectors: oil and gas
Key Risks: business risk; contract reviews; frustration of process; contract frustration

In Brazil, on 10 April state-owned oil firm Petrobras announced plans to move forward with the sale of five assets for which contracts have already been signed and are awaiting final regulatory approval. However, the firm stated its intention to review the status of potential deals that remain in the negotiation phase, suggesting that a dozen sales may be halted. On 29 March the Mines and Energy Ministry requested that the firm halt all its divestitures for a period of 90 days due to the reassessment of the national energy policy. The request came six days after leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva stated that Petrobras should suspend asset sales citing “unfavourable conditions” for the firm to continue with its privatisation programme – which was launched by far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro. Frustration of process including contract review will remain heightened risks.

Asia Pacific: China escalates its response to Tsai-McCarthy meeting

Sectors: all
Key Risks: accidental conflict; war on sea

In the Taiwan Strait, on 8 April Beijing commenced three-day military exercises to simulate precision strikes and a blockade against Taiwan following the return of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen from a meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles, California, three days earlier. The meeting marked the highest level of official contact between the US and Taiwan on US soil in decades. Beijing deployed its Shandong aircraft carrier and on 10 April the drills saw 91 warplane sorties flying close to the self-governing island, with 54 crossing into the median line of the Taiwan Strait – the highest number of recorded sorties in a single day since October 2021. These events highlighted the continued normalisation of military activities in the Strait. Cross-Strait tensions are expected to remain elevated in the coming week, though this is unlikely to be sustained in the medium term.

Eurasia: Protests and strikes over unemployment grow across Kazakhstan 

Sectors: energy; mining
Key risks: disruptive strikes

In Kazakhstan, on 10 April dozens of workers who had lost their jobs in Zhanaozen, Mangistau region, travelled to the capital Astana and held a protest outside the Ministry of Energy. Turnout grew to around 150 people on 11 April. On 4 April workers had already held a strike demanding employment opportunities outside the oil and gas firm Ozenmunaigaz’s office in Zhanaozen. Disruptive strikes and protests over job cuts and unemployment have grown across the country since January. Workers blocked entry into an oil field for several days from 31 March in Zhetybay, Mangistau region, and on 30 March hundreds of workers protested at a gold mine in Bestobe, Akmola region. Unemployment remains high in several regions and workers are increasingly calling on the government to create more jobs in oil and gas refineries. Further potentially disruptive strikes cannot be ruled out.

Europe: Farmers in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland protest influx of Ukrainian grain 

Sectors: agriculture
Key Risks: economic and business risks

In Romania and Bulgaria, on 7 April hundreds of farmers protested against an influx of agricultural products from Ukraine that flooded local markets and lowered prices of locally-produced products. Hundreds of farmers gathered in Romania’s capital Bucharest while hundreds more protested across the country in long convoys of tractors. In Bulgaria, farmers blocked some border crossings with farm vehicles. In May 2022 the EU waived customs duties and import quotas on Ukrainian agricultural products to facilitate their transport to other markets. However, European grain producers claim that they instead flooded the EU’s internal markets, undercutting the prices of local producers. The protests in Bulgaria and Romania followed similar protests in Poland which resulted in the resignation of Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk on 5 April. Further protests are likely and risk increasing in size and frequency ahead of the upcoming summer harvest.

MENA: Saudi officials aim for a swift end to the Yemeni civil war

Sectors: all
Key Risks: war; political stability

In Yemen, on 9 April a Saudi delegation met with the Huthi leadership in the Huthi-held capital Sana’a under the mediation of Omani envoys to discuss a permanent ceasefire. Since 2014 forces aligned with the UN-recognised government of Aden and supported by a Saudi-led coalition have been battling the Iran-backed Huthis for control of the country. Following the failure to renew the UN-brokered ceasefire in October 2022, the prospect of a resolution to the conflict appeared tenuous. However, the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran on 10 March gave fresh momentum to direct diplomatic talks, running parallel to UN peace efforts. The UN had recently brokered a prisoner swap involving 887 detainees. Reports suggest that Riyadh aims to announce a final peace deal before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on 20 April.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Ethiopia announces plans to centralise the national army

Sectors: all
Key Risks: war on land; civil unrest

In Ethiopia, on 6 April Addis Ababa announced plans to integrate all regional special forces into either the national army or the federal police as part of efforts to centralise the national army. The country is organised in 11 regions which enjoy a large degree of autonomy, allowing some regions to establish regional armies among other rights. The announcement triggered brief clashes between Amhara Special Forces and Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) troops in Amhara region, where the decision has faced strong opposition. On 9 April protests broke out in at least six towns in Amhara region to denounce the plan. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated that he intends to push through with military centralisation even if “a price had to be paid”, suggesting that he would likely employ military force to enforce the plan.