Beyond Westminster and Washington: five more important elections for trade in 2024

Thu 11 Jan 2024
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Features

ballto box

2024 has been hailed by some commentators as the ‘year of democracy’ due to the sheer number of important elections that are taking place in the coming months.

In fact, seven of the ten most populous nations will vote this year, with the US, India, European Parliament and UK all scheduled to go to the polls throughout 2024.

However, there are also a few other countries that will hold their own general or presidential elections, many of which could have huge implications for international trade and geopolitics, as voters pick the future direction of their country.

Mexico’s president

Mexico goes to the polls this year to elect a new leader, as president Andrés Manuel López Obrador is unable to seek re-election.

A controversial figure, López Obrador still enjoys a lot of support domestically, and has presided over relatively calm relations with US presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump, despite the latter’s history of antagonism with Mexico.

Described as a left-wing populist, López Obrador has kept criticism of the US-Canada-Mexico Agreement to a minimum, and has seen advanced manufacturing companies like Tesla invest in the country while his government has expanded the country’s trade links with the world.

The candidate of his National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party, Claudia Sheinbaum, enjoys a sizeable lead over her next placed opponent, Xochitl Galvez.

Ana Sofia German, trade agreement specialist at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), said: “We're likely to get more information from the candidates soon, since the official campaign season starts 1 March and candidates will start releasing policies and manifestos.”

The election will likely come down to a choice between ‘continuity’ with Sheinbaum and ‘change’ with Galvez.

German explained:

“One of the important things to understand is how the new administration will work with partners internationally, such as any stances on trade deal negotiations and policy, as well as how they will engage with the rest of the world.

“Mexico stands to be one of the main countries to benefit economically from geopolitical shifts such as 'friend-shoring', with companies also moving parts of their supply chains to Mexico. If the next president wants to encourage this, one of their main aims will likely be to create a stable and favourable environment for businesses and foreign investment.”

Mexico is likely to have its first female president, as the only major male candidate, Samuel Garcia, pulled out of the race late last year.

The date for the election is set for 2 June.

Taiwan presidential

The island nation, which China regards as a breakaway province, is going through the final stages of a campaign that could have major impacts on global trade.

Incumbent vice president Lai Ching-te is currently leading the polls by between 3 and 11 percentage points. Lai, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is running ahead of Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

Both the TPP and KMT favour stronger ties with Beijing. An initial deal between the two opposition parties to run together fell apart soon after it was agreed.

If Lai is successful, this would be the first time that the same party has won three successive elections since the introduction of an elective democracy in 1996, and would also represent a setback to Chinese president Xi Jinping’s efforts to bring Taiwan back under Chinese control.

The DPP are seen as more explicitly pro-US party, as reported by CNN, and the ruling president Tsai Ing-wen has bolstered ties with the US.

In August 2022, a visit by then-speaker of the US congress Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan rippled through global supply chains after China responded to the trip by carrying out military exercises, causing extensive disruption to maritime shipping in a crucial trade hotspot.

The election is set for 13 January 2024.

Venezuela

After South America’s big election year in 2023, Venezuela takes the centre stage.

President Nicolas Maduro first took over in 2013 after a narrow victory, but subsequently took powers to rule by decree and mostly sidelined the opposition, cracking down on dissent.

Under a deal brokered by Norway, some sanctions have been lifted in exchange for Venezuela holding free and fair elections.

However, significant doubts remain over the government’s commitment to the agreement after opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado was barred from standing for public office only months after winning a primary.

The elections could have an impact on both commodities and the Latin American-EU relationship.

Venezuela, a major energy exporter and member of OPEC, has been subject to heavy sanctions over the last decade and has resorted to transporting oil and other products via a ‘shadow fleet’ of Iranian tankers.

A new administration, capable of negotiating Venezuela out of sanctions, could start trading again with the world, potentially boosting energy exports, engaging with the US and allied nations and rejoining the Mercosur trading bloc, from which it was suspended in 2017.

No election date is set, but the deal sets the timeline at later in 2024.

South Africa

A major trading nation, South Africa has been experiencing significant economic and security issues over the last few years.

Allegations of corruption and economic malfeasance have dogged the ruling African National Congress (ANC), who have ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, to the point where its once solid grip is no longer secure.

Having won 56% of the vote in 2019, polls show their support has fallen to about 45%.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has already kicked off his re-election campaign, but politics watchers have noted a lack of enthusiasm for the once-dominant party.

Ramaphosa initially rose to power after the resignation of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, over allegations of corruption.

The one saving grace for the ANC is that there is no obvious opposition. While the main centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA) has slowly gained ground, it still trails by a significant amount. The left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have been mooted as an option for a coalition.

If the EFF does go into coalition with the ANC, policy hub Chatham House speculates that this could shift the centre of gravity “away from the West and [towards putting] more of an emphasis on ‘anti-imperialism’”.

South Africa already has strong ties with both Russia and China, fellow members of the BRICs grouping, and despite Pretoria’s claims of independence, has been accused by the US and allies of covertly supplying arms to Russia.

While the EFF is openly sympathetic towards Russia, the DA is supportive of Ukraine, with its leader John Steenhuisen visiting Ukraine to express solidarity.

The inclusion of the populist EFF into government could push South Africa further towards Russia and China, and away from the US, while an unlikely victory by Steenhuisen could result in a shift towards the West on issues like investment and support for Ukraine.

South Africa’s elections will likely take place in the first half of 2024.

Pakistan

With an electorate of over 128m people, Pakistan’s elections are some of the biggest in the world.

However, it has undergone a turbulent time politically. Former PM Imran Khan was removed in 2022 after a parliamentary vote and barred from running after corruption allegations.

In spite of that, his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is enjoying a significant lead in the polls, with Khan’s party sweeping to victory in a pair of state elections held last year.

Although Khan remains barred, the former international cricketer holds significant popularity and is appealing the corruption verdict.

Former leader Nawaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan after a supreme court decision permitting him to run again in the elections. As a three-time PM, he could provide a well-known alternative to Khan as leader of the governing Pakistan Muslim League.

Pakistan plays an often-underrated role in international trade. It was one of the larger targets of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is one of the UK’s most important trading partners in the region, though it has a tense relationship with the US.

It has also sought investment from Middle Eastern nations such as Saudia Arbia and Turkey, and has imported oil from Russia despite pressure from the West. Khan explicitly called for Pakistan to move away from foreign dependence, although critics said he was inconsistent on the issue in practice.

The election is set for 8 February 2023.