Unrest in Georgia. On Sunday, police clashed with protesters demonstrating against the construction of a hydropower plant in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge – an area populated mainly by ethnic Chechens. Several people, including police officers, were injured. The incident occurred days before Russian military forces will hold joint drills with Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia. The drills will include a squadron of attack and transport helicopters that will remain on the Russian military base in Abkhazia after the drills. The location of the military exercises is unknown, but they will reportedly include 3,000 servicemen, tanks, self-propelled artillery and Russian Black Sea Fleet ships.
Chinese exporters’ BRI concerns. China’s small and medium-sized exporters are increasingly wary of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. At the annual China Import and Export Fair in Guangdong province, Chinese traders told the South China Morning Post that the infrastructure-focused project does little to help small and medium-sized exporters, adding that subsidies to attend such fairs seemed to be the only benefit of the initiative for businesses of their size. They’re also concerned that the initiative will increase the level of competition they face and that they see trade fairs as bad for business because many foreign vendors participate, not out of an interest in buying Chinese goods, but to study Chinese products so they can offer competitive alternatives. Emerging manufacturing hubs of particular concern included India, Vietnam and Cambodia. Nearly 400 foreign manufacturers participated in this year’s China Import and Export Fair, 60 percent of which come from BRI countries.
Italy’s privatization plans. As part of its budget agreement with the European Commission, Italy’s government is supposed to privatize 17 billion euros’ ($19 billion) worth of state assets in 2019 to offset higher government spending. But considering that it’s late April and Rome has yet to announce official preparations for such a sale, that looks unlikely; the Italian Parliamentary Budget Office, or UPB, said last week that the target was unachievable. Failure would likely push Italy’s debt-to-gross domestic product ratio – 132.2 percent as of 2018 – up by at least 1 percentage point, and by 2022, it would reach 135 percent, according to the UPB. Earlier this month, Rome revised its 2019 growth forecast down to 0.2 percent, the same as the European Commission’s projections for the country, while acknowledging that its deficit for the year would reach 2.4 percent – the same figure that sparked the dispute late last year. Without privatizations or a major increase in the sales tax, the UPB said the budget deficit would climb to 3.4 percent in 2020, 3.6 percent in 2021 and 3.8 percent in 2022, well above the EU cap of 3 percent.
Saudi caution over increasing oil supplies. Saudi Arabia has expressed concern about helping the U.S. ensure oil prices do not increase once Iranian sanction waivers are lifted. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that, as of May 2, the U.S. will stop issuing waivers that allow countries to continue importing Iranian oil without penalty. Washington then asked Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production to help offset the decreased Iranian supplies. But when the Saudis increased supplies last year after the sanctions were initially imposed, the U.S. then decided to grant waivers to certain countries, meaning the total global supply increased and prices fell. This time around, the Saudis seem more hesitant to agree to the U.S. request. According to an anonymous OPEC source who spoke to Reuters, Saudi Arabia wants a guarantee from the U.S. that it will not grant any more waivers before it agrees to cooperate.
- Ukrainians elected Volodymyr Zelensky as their next president over incumbent Petro Poroshenko.
- Iran and Pakistan agreed to establish a joint rapid reaction force along their shared border in response to increased attacks and to combat terrorism.
- Mexican oil firm Pemex reported 1,519 new pipeline perforations in January (a 45 percent increase from the previous month) and 1,342 in February.
- The attacks that killed nearly 300 people in Sri Lanka on Sunday were carried out with the help of “an international network,” Sri Lankan officials said Monday, without offering further detail. The government has blamed the bombings on a local jihadist organization called the National Thowheed Jamath.
- With the aid of the U.S. military, Kosovo has repatriated 110 of its citizens from Syria. They include four men who allegedly left Kosovo to fight for the Islamic State. The others are women and children.
- Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged $3 billion to help support Sudan’s government. Some $500 million will be deposited into Sudan’s central bank while the remaining funds will be used to provide food, medicine and petroleum products.
- In a recent YouGov poll, 59 percent of Germans supported the complete withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the country. Only 18 percent said they wanted the weapons to stay.
- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will visit China for a summit on the Belt and Road Initiative beginning April 27, his third visit to the country in as many years.
- The Japanese destroyer Suzutsuki arrived in Qingdao on Sunday for the first port call to China by a Japanese warship in seven years.
- More Germans, who are notoriously financially conservative, are being driven to invest in the stock market by extremely low-interest rates. In 2018, the number of German public shareholders rose to 10.3 million, its highest level since 2007. With savings rates near zero percent, there aren’t many other high-yielding options for German savers.
- Huawei’s revenue increased by 39 percent in the first quarter, exceeding many financial analysts’ expectations. Growth was up in all three of the company’s business segments, driven particularly by higher global shipments in smartphones.
- Approximately 2 million Iranians have been displaced by floods that started two weeks ago.
- Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed a new commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.