Saturday, January 28

Saturday, January 28

President Trump talks to Vladimir Putin and African leaders debate a regional free trade agreement.

TRUMP, PUTIN TALK

Photo: Matt Rourke/AP

Photo: Matt Rourke/AP

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are set to become telephone buddies on Saturday.

President Trump has repeatedly insisted his administration will improve ties with Russia but has given little in the way of a policy outline. Indeed, the president’s cabinet is a veritable hodge-podge of pro- and anti-Russia proponents. Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s chief strategist, is believed to support lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Russia after its seizure of Crimea. On the other hand, Defence Secretary James Mattis has advocated the new administration tow a much tougher line on the Kremlin.

For his part, Mr Putin has a history of confounding US presidents. After meeting the Russian leader for the first time in 2001, then President George W Bush proclaimed he had looked him in the eye and was “able to get a sense of his soul”. Bush’s soul-peering did little to prevent Russia’s invasion of Georgia – a key US ally in the southern Caucasus. President Obama also attempted to court the Kremlin after taking power in 2009 with his infamous “reset” policy – an unmitigated failure.

Whether Donald Trump is the bear-whispering deal-maker he claims to be is yet to be seen. Saturday’s phone conversation may provide some insight.

AFRICAN NATIONS MULL TRADE DEAL

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

Negotiations on the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) resume at the African Union Summit on Saturday.

The CFTA aims to remove trade barriers between 54 African countries and enjoys widespread political support. The UN Economic Commission for Africa estimates it could generate up to $35 billion in additional trade per year. Yet significant economic differences across Africa are likely to complicate the deal, with observers questioning whether it can be completed by the ambitious October 2017 due date. Other barriers – like Africa’s poor infrastructure – could further hamstring the CFTA by increasing the cost of doing business.

Although the deal may disproportionately benefit wealthier African nations – 60% of intra-African trade is produced by just seven countries – it’s forecasted to benefit the region as a whole. But international exporters and primary industries may feel the heat from the CFTA: it is predicted to erase $10 billion in imports from outside the continent.

While the CFTA may not be completed within the 2017 timeframe, Saturday’s summit is likely to see African Union members reaffirm their commitment to the deal’s eventual implementation.