The Daily Brief: Monday, Apr. 3

Understand the world. One brief at a time.

REBOOTING RELATIONS: SISI VISITS THE WHITE HOUSE

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

Donald Trump will welcome Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday. The White House visit will be Mr Sisi’s first since ascending to the presidency in 2014; Barack Obama’s relationship with the Egyptian leader was strained over human rights concerns. President Trump will have no such issues with Sisi, who he’s hailed as “a fantastic guy”.

Expect the new administration to seek a “reboot” of relations with Cairo, which is a key regional security partner. The secular Egyptian government has been tough on Islamists – both of the political and militant persuasion – and faces an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where some elements have claimed allegiance to ISIS. Trump will be looking to ramp up cooperation as part of his muscular offensive against Islamist extremists.

Libya will also be high on the agenda. Last month, reports emerged that Russian special forces were operating out of an airbase in western Egypt, close to Libyan towns where Moscow-friendly forces operate. Mr Trump is likely to seek clarification on these reports and move to curb Russia’s growing influence in Egypt and Libya.

Dig deeper: Egypt: new friends and old

A CHEESY PROBLEM: EU-JAPAN TRADE TALKS

Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty

Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty

Japan and the EU will kick off another round of free trade talks on Monday.

EU trade negotiators have been busy: March alone saw a flurry of activity in the free trade space, with fresh talks on an agreement with South American bloc Mercosur and another with ASEAN, which is keen to restart talks that stalled in 2009.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also voiced his country’s desire to pursue additional free trade links, particularly since the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan-EU free trade talks reached peak productivity in December last year but have since spluttered over domestic push-back on lifting agricultural and automotive tariffs.

The trickiest tariffs to negotiate – a 30% Japanese tax on imported cheese and the EU’s 10% duty on Japanese cars – are championed by strong lobby groups and will likely see the parties return to the negotiating table again and again. On the other hand, the knowledge that the European Parliament will soon be absorbed by Brexit talks may serve to catalyse Monday’s talks.

BROTHERS REUNITED: LUKASHENKO AND PUTIN

Photo: Kremlin

Photo: Kremlin

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko will meet Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Monday, signalling an easing of tensions between Minsk and Moscow. Relations were strained in 2014 after Lukashenko expressed frustration with his neighbour, citing the ‘bad precedent’ of Crimea. The spat escalated with energy market tariff conflicts and cuts to Russian subsidies essential for Belarus’ economy.

Monday’s visit comes amid the EU’s threat of renewed sanctions on Belarus. EU officials have been unnerved by what it views as excessive police force used to disperse protests against unpopular new tax measures last Month.

Western sanctions are poorly timed for Mr Lukashenko. Belarus is mired in a three-year-old recession, and complicated trade and subsidy relations with Moscow have led to job losses in the energy sector. Meanwhile, wages have dropped by a staggering 40% since 2014. Combined with this economic pain, any suggestion of renewed EU sanctions could well push Minsk back into Moscow’s arms.

Dig deeper: Russia and Belarus: a special relationship turning cold

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

The Organisation of American States, a South American regional bloc, will hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss ongoing unrest in Venezuela. Last week, the country’s top court ruled to bypass parliament; however, under pressure from all sides, judges reversed their decision over the weekend. OAS member states have threatened to suspend Venezuela’s membership; this could be further debated on Monday.

The IMF will decide on whether to issue a $1 billion instalment to Ukraine as part of the country’s four-year, $17.5 billion aid program. The IMF delayed the disbursement in March, citing the economic and trade blockade of the country’s conflict-ridden east.