Brexit hemlock. Where to begin? First, British Prime Minister Theresa May offered to fall on her sword if her Conservative Party colleagues backed the European Union withdrawal agreement. A few notable Brexiteers indicated that this was sufficient to gain their vote, but it’s unlikely to be enough, especially after the small but influential Northern Ireland Unionist Party said it was still opposed. Then the speaker of the House of Commons reiterated that he would not permit a third “meaningful vote” on the deal unless it was substantially different from the first two. Finally, Parliament’s bid to take the wheel ended in a ditch. In an effort to find widespread support for any of eight alternative forms of Brexit, lawmakers failed to find a majority for anything. We’ll have more to say on the Brexit deadlock soon.
A Saudi merger. Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company, Saudi Aramco, will buy a 70 percent stake in the country’s state-run petrochemicals firm, SABIC, from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund for $69.1 billion. It will reportedly generate about as much cash for the state-owned Public Investment Fund as the initial public offering of Aramco would have, had it actually taken place. (The merger had been expected for some time. In fact, some believe the Aramco IPO was delayed on purpose so that, once merged, the companies would not have to compete against each other.) Yet it’s not quite the windfall news outlets have made it out to be – Riyadh essentially used Aramco money to inject cash into the Public Investment Fund. Still, the two companies are hoping to streamline operations and reduce costs, and Aramco is hoping to limit competition from its smaller counterpart. In the long term, Riyadh wants to continue to grow its petrochemicals investments to reduce its dependence on oil.
Kyrgyzstan scores Russian deals. Russia and Kyrgyzstan agreed to expand a joint military base in Kyrgyzstan during a state visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two countries also signed various agreements and memorandums of understanding, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund announced plans to invest 6 billion rubles ($92.6 million) in Kyrgyz projects such as gold mining. Moscow also agreed to give Bishkek $30 million to support its state budget. Kyrgyzstan is an important buffer for Russia, and the two countries have long had close ties. But anti-Russian sentiment has been on the rise in Kyrgyzstan lately. On Wednesday, for example, Kyrgyz police detained an activist who was protesting the policies of Putin’s government.
French reforms continue. The French Cabinet on Wednesday approved a draft law that would cut 120,000 civil service jobs over three years. The government hopes to have the draft passed and implemented by 2020. The cost-cutting reform has drawn criticism from French trade unions, and more than half a dozen called for strikes on May 9. French President Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating has slowly crept up since the “yellow vest” protests hit their peak late last year, but it still sits at about 30 percent.
Exploring options in Venezuela. Several members of the Lima Group, a multilateral organization that has called for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s immediate, unconditional resignation, are re-evaluating their strategy as the risk of stalemate grows, according to an editorial published Tuesday in the Miami Herald. The article cites diplomatic sources as saying the countries are considering working with the European Union’s International Contact Group to explore negotiation options with Maduro and foreign-supervised elections this year. Meanwhile, opposition leader Juan Guaido called for nationwide protests on March 30 in response to the massive blackouts across the country in recent weeks. He also called for an even larger march in support of what he called Operation Freedom, a campaign to force Maduro out of office. In a show of support, U.S. President Donald Trump met with Guaido’s wife, Fabiana Rosales, at the White House on Wednesday.
- On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen met with Mexican Interior Secretary Olga Sanches Cordero in Miami to discuss border issues, immigration and security cooperation, after which Mexico announced a new containment strategy to stop the flow of Central American migrants across its southern border.
- The United States, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have agreed to conduct joint police operations to improve border security, deter international crime and curb migration.
- An unknown assailant detonated a bomb at a police station in China’s northeastern city of Shenyang, killing himself and wounding two police officers and a bystander.
- The latest round of U.S.-China trade talks has begun in Beijing.
- The Trump administration approved six secret authorizations allowing companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, according to Reuters.
- Following several days of protest, Ingush leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov recalled a draft constitutional law that would have allowed a land swap with Chechnya to go ahead without a referendum.
- On Wednesday, Russia started large-scale drills in Crimea that will continue for three days and involve more than 1,500 paratroopers and 300 pieces of equipment, including aircraft and large naval ships.
- Turkey will hold elections in some 80 municipalities on Sunday, and opinion polls have the ruling Justice and Development Party in close races in major cities like Ankara and Istanbul. Losses would represent a symbolic blow to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authority.
- A report by the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center said China’s Huawei telecommunications firm had failed to fix security flaws in its mobile network equipment and said it could “provide only limited assurance that the long-term security risks can be managed in the Huawei equipment currently deployed in the U.K.”
- According to figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday, the U.S. trade deficit narrowed to $51.1 billion in January from $59.9 billion in December, which was the largest deficit in a decade. Imports from China plummeted 12.3 percent, indicating U.S. companies may have rushed orders at the end of 2018 to avoid a tariff hike that was originally expected (but later delayed) for Jan. 1.
- Ford Motor Co. announced Wednesday that it would shut down production of all passenger vehicles in Russia by the end of June because of “significant pressure” in the Russian passenger vehicle market and “inadequate returns” in its Russian operations. The company will close three plants in St. Petersburg and Tatarstan. Ford’s joint venture in Russia employs roughly 3,700 workers.
- International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said the eurozone was more resilient than it had been a decade ago but still was not resilient enough. New data on Thursday showed that economic sentiment in the eurozone had dropped more than expected, but that corporate lending was up.