Rwanda: On March 21st, more than 40 African nations signed a free trade pact in Kigali, Rwanda, creating the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The pact, which is the result of three years of negotiations, is the largest free trade agreement since the World Trade Organization was founded in 1995. It aims to create a “single market for goods and services” by removing tariffs on 90 percent of goods and eliminating border delays. The UN Economic Commission for Africa believes the agreement could boost intra-African trade by more than 50 percent by 2022. However, not all African Union members have signed on to AfCFTA. The most notable holdouts are Nigeria and South Africa, whose economies together represent one-third of Africa’s GDP. AfCFTA will take effect once 22 of the African Union’s 55 member states ratify the agreement.
China/Taiwan: On March 16th, President Trump signed a U.S.-Taiwan travel bill that allows high level U.S. officials to travel to the disputed island and meet with their Taiwanese counterparts. Trump’s move contradicts the long-standing “one China” policy that the U.S. has followed since President Nixon’s 1972 detente with Chairman Mao. The new legislation coincides with the end of China’s annual National People’s Congress, at which newly re-elected President Xi Jinping stated, “Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure, and will meet with the people’s condemnation and punishment of history.” Relations between the U.S. and China have been strained recently due to trade tariffs President Trump is set to impose against China. Chinese officials now claim the U.S. bill emboldens Taiwanese claims to sovereignty, and have threatened military intervention to forestall any push for formal independence.
Myanmar: Last week Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, suggested that the government of Myanmar may be complicit in “the crime of genocide” against Rohingya Muslims. However, U Aung Tun Thet, the chief coordinator of a Burmese government body investigating the Rohingya issue, denied that the country’s military had committed any crimes against Rohingya Muslims and condemned UN’s report. His government claims that economic plight is the root cause of violence against ethnic Rohingyas in the Rakhine district, and plans to invest in infrastructure to facilitate their return. However, critics see the development as part of an effort to quickly repopulate the vacated district and make it a “Muslim-dry” zone.
Philippines: According to a statement released to reporters in Manila on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte plans to withdraw the Philippines from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). This development comes after the ICC began an investigation into thousands of deaths linked to his violent campaign against suspected drug users and dealers. However, Duterte said the decision to withdraw was in response to “baseless, unprecedented, and outrageous attacks” by U.N. officials.
Peru: Last Friday, after the Peruvian Congress announced impeachment proceedings would commence, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski testified to a special legislative committee investigating potential corruption. The committee gave President Kuczynski a chance to defend himself against accusations that he changed investment laws to benefit Brazilian construction firms and various companies he founded before ascending to the presidency. On March 21st, President Kuczynski resigned after a video surfaced of his allies attempting to bribe a lawmaker into voting against a previous impeachment. This was the second time Kuczynski faced impeachment in the past four months. Observers believe he avoided impeachment in December by pardoning imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, who’s son leads the opposition Popular Force party. The announcement came a day before impeachment proceedings were set to begin, but it remains to be seen if Peru’s Congress will accept his resignation.