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The For­bes Top 10 Nego­tia­ti­ons That Will Chan­ge 2021

When will armed con­flict stop des­troy­ing lives and com­mu­ni­ties? Unfort­u­na­te­ly, not this year, but thanks to the wil­ling­ness to nego­tia­te, we are inde­ed get­ting clo­ser and clo­ser to world peace. The­re are still obs­ta­cles, such as the “ghosts” at the table — invi­si­ble inte­rest groups that each nego­tia­ting par­ty must take into account. When world lea­ders work tog­e­ther for the com­mon good, they have an incen­ti­ve, even a moral obli­ga­ti­on, to act in the inte­rests of tho­se who elec­ted them. Despi­te all the­se dif­fi­cul­ties, many desi­ra­ble results can be achie­ved through nego­tia­ti­ons, and have been — but only if pro­mi­ses are kept and hones­ty pre­vails.

Nego­tia­ti­ons are not always instant solu­ti­ons, and the issues sel­ec­ted for this year’s top ten list unders­core that fact. Even the most cri­ti­cal agree­ments — tho­se aimed at secu­ring peace and eco­no­mic sta­bi­li­ty across an enti­re regi­on — often end up being igno­red. One or both par­ties may use nego­tia­ti­ons as a stal­ling tac­tic or to grab advan­ta­ges for them­sel­ves and deny agreed-upon con­ces­si­ons to others.


The peo­p­le of the Nagor­no-Kara­bakh regi­on, in the sou­thern Cau­ca­sus of the for­mer Soviet Uni­on, are well acquain­ted with uncer­tain­ty. Their lives have been dis­rupt­ed for deca­des by eth­nic and ter­ri­to­ri­al dis­pu­tes. Despi­te the recent agree­ment, an end to the unrest does not yet seem to be in sight. 

Rus­si­an nego­tia­tors bro­ke­red a cea­se-fire for the first Nagor­no-Kara­bakh war in 1994, but sub­se­quent talks under the auspi­ces of the OSCE’s Minsk Group fai­led to pro­du­ce a peace trea­ty bet­ween the oppo­sing par­ties — the nati­ons of Azer­bai­jan and Arme­nia. 

Spo­ra­dic skir­mis­hes mark­ed the years sin­ce the 1994 trea­ty befo­re hea­vy fight­ing bro­ke out again in late Sep­tem­ber 2020. Rus­sia once again step­ped in as media­tor, and a full cea­se-fire went into effect in ear­ly Novem­ber. Howe­ver, the terms of the agree­ment met with wide­spread oppo­si­ti­on from Arme­ni­ans, who view­ed the cea­se-fire as a sur­ren­der rather than a fair and pro­duc­ti­ve nego­tia­ti­on. The agree­ment included the return of cer­tain lands to Azer­bai­jan, the exch­an­ge of pri­soners of war, the ope­ning of eco­no­mic and trans­por­ta­ti­on links, and the inclu­si­on of a peace­kee­ping force from the Rus­si­an Fede­ra­ti­on. Arme­ni­an pro­tes­ters cal­led their nego­tia­tor a trai­tor for capi­tu­la­ting to the other side, but Rus­si­an Pre­si­dent Putin prai­sed the prime minister’s “per­so­nal cou­ra­ge.” 

Arme­nia had a weak hand in the nego­tia­ti­ons. Tur­key sup­port­ed its ally Azer­bai­jan with mili­ta­ry force. Armenia’s strength is a well-con­nec­ted dia­spo­ra around the world, but the United Sta­tes, France, and other nati­ons that could have hel­ped did not see the value in ange­ring oil-rich Azer­bai­jan or Erdo­gan. 

This nego­tia­ti­on pro­vi­ded a tem­po­ra­ry peace, but has alre­a­dy pro­ven that it is not a per­ma­nent solu­ti­on to the hosti­li­ty.


Qatar hos­ted nego­tia­ti­ons to end a two-deca­de con­flict bet­ween Afgha­ni­stan and the Tali­ban. The ten­ta­ti­ve agree­ment signed in ear­ly Decem­ber 2020 com­mit­ted both par­ties to fur­ther talks but fell short of a cea­se-fire. The next round of talks is sche­du­led to begin Jan. 5 in the Qata­ri capi­tal of Doha, despi­te con­cerns about the coro­na­vi­rus pan­de­mic.

Among the issues at sta­ke are huma­ni­ta­ri­an issues, the future of Afghanistan’s cen­tral govern­ment and fin­ding a path to peace. The Tali­ban had pre­vious­ly signed an agree­ment with the United Sta­tes to with­draw all U.S. tro­ops from Afgha­ni­stan by May 2021 in return for a decrease in Tali­ban ter­ro­rist acts. For now, howe­ver, bom­bings, rockets, and other vio­lent attacks con­ti­nue.

Addi­tio­nal pres­su­re from the West and the pro­mi­se of about $12 bil­li­on in aid over the next four years (depen­ding on the pro­gress of the talks) are hel­ping both par­ties see the bene­fits of a cea­se-fire and attempts to stop the vio­lence.

It was a foo­lish mista­ke by the Ame­ri­cans to exclude the incum­bent Afghan govern­ment from the first rounds of nego­tia­ti­ons. It has sin­ce come to the nego­tia­ting table, but now the­re is also pri­de at sta­ke and (most important­ly) Tali­ban lea­ders risk losing their accep­tance if they give in too much. Local Tali­ban militi­as, for exam­p­le, have open­ly announ­ced that they will join Daesh (ISIS) if they are not satis­fied with the out­co­me.


Most U.S. law­ma­kers agree that dis­tri­bu­ting the COVID-19 vac­ci­ne to their con­sti­tu­ents is a good idea, but nego­tia­ti­ons over fun­ding for the dis­tri­bu­ti­on — along with other pan­de­mic reli­ef efforts — have pro­ven tough. Demo­crats want to pro­vi­de signi­fi­cant fun­ding to sta­tes and cities, while their Repu­bli­can coun­ter­parts tend to favor a more limi­t­ed packa­ge that would focus more on hel­ping citi­zens, cut­ting for­eign aid, and pro­vi­ding a direct path to vac­ci­na­ti­on.

Mean­while, law­ma­kers beat health care workers to the punch to get the first round of vac­ci­na­ti­ons — a move that did not go over well with health care workers. Else­whe­re, accu­sa­ti­ons sur­faced that some hos­pi­tals and cli­nics were not fol­lo­wing estab­lished gui­de­lines, ins­tead giving vac­ci­na­ti­ons to pre­fer­red indi­vi­du­als.

Glo­bal­ly, Cana­da leads in the num­ber of vac­ci­ne doses acqui­red per capi­ta. Astra­Ze­ne­ca, Moder­na and Pfi­zer say they can pro­du­ce enough vac­ci­ne to immu­ni­ze about three bil­li­on peo­p­le by 2021. Other phar­maceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies are still working on their ver­si­ons of the vac­ci­ne. 

The Duke Glo­bal Inno­va­ti­on Cen­ter says low-inco­me count­ries could still be two or three years away from acqui­ring the vac­ci­ne, as richer nati­ons get first dibs due to direct nego­tia­ti­ons with manu­fac­tu­r­ers. Pay­ing for the vac­ci­nes is a con­ten­tious issue that despera­te­ly needs to be resol­ved, but how available doses are dis­tri­bu­ted will likely con­ti­nue to gene­ra­te con­tro­ver­sy and con­cern.

The­se nego­tia­ti­ons illus­tra­te a typi­cal moral dilem­ma in nego­tia­ti­ons: Govern­ments must con­sider the glo­bal con­se­quen­ces of their actions, but they are pri­ma­ri­ly respon­si­ble for the peo­p­le they repre­sent.


Nego­tia­ti­ons on the post-Brexit rela­ti­onship bet­ween the United King­dom and the Euro­pean Uni­on took on a par­ti­cu­lar urgen­cy with the loo­ming year-end time­ta­ble set out in the With­dra­wal Agree­ment. The dead­line for exten­ding that docu­ment ended in July, and nego­tia­tors rea­ched a last-minu­te agree­ment. 

Time pres­su­re may have work­ed against Bri­tish Prime Minis­ter Boris John­son. In a BBC com­men­ta­ry on the nego­tia­ti­ons, the head­line reads “Brexit bows out with a whim­per, not a bang.” Pre­si­dent Trump’s defeat in the U.S. elec­tion also wea­k­en­ed John­son, as Trump vowed to streng­then eco­no­mic ties with Bri­tain. He belie­ves it is pos­si­ble to be free of EU laws and still main­tain free trade with EU count­ries.

Brexit bows out with a whim­per, not a bang

Key issues at sta­ke included trade agree­ments, immi­gra­ti­on poli­cy, tra­vel regu­la­ti­ons, fishing regu­la­ti­ons, secu­ri­ty pro­to­cols and judi­cial auto­no­my. After ups and downs that drag­ged on for near­ly a full year, the par­ties signed a more than 1,200-page agree­ment on Dec. 24. 

Pro­vi­si­ons include no tariffs on trade bet­ween the UK and the EU, the aboli­ti­on of trade quo­tas (alt­hough the impact on ser­vices is unclear), and con­fir­ma­ti­on of the UK Parliament’s right to take action on behalf of the Eng­lish peo­p­le rather than the regi­on as a who­le. The UK will no lon­ger have to abide by rulings of the EU Court of Jus­ti­ce.

Cri­tics of the deal fear new and unfo­re­seen trade bar­riers that will result in lower GDP for the UK and limit the abili­ty of UK resi­dents to work or stu­dy in the EU. Was it wise for the UK to lea­ve the arms of the Euro­pean Uni­on? Time will tell. Howe­ver, the deal is done.


Fif­teen mem­bers of the Asso­cia­ti­on of Sou­the­ast Asi­an Nati­ons (ASE­AN) and five of its regio­nal part­ners have opted to con­ti­nue par­ti­ci­pa­ting in the Regio­nal Com­pre­hen­si­ve Eco­no­mic Part­ner­ship (RCEP), but India was not among them. Ori­gi­nal­ly pushed by U.S. Pre­si­dent Barack Oba­ma as the Trans-Paci­fic Part­ner­ship (TPP), the move was reor­ga­ni­zed and ren­a­med after Pre­si­dent Donald Trump with­drew U.S. sup­port for the agree­ment. 

The RCEP agree­ment is now led by Chi­na and aims to pro­vi­de smoot­her access to trade across the regi­on. Mem­ber count­ries account for near­ly one-third of the world’s popu­la­ti­on and con­tri­bu­te near­ly 30 per­cent of glo­bal GDP. Indi­an nego­tia­tors, howe­ver, wal­ked out of the talks and reaf­firm­ed their oppo­si­ti­on in Novem­ber 2020. The main pro­blem: Indi­an nego­tia­tors fear that RCEP mem­ber­ship would limit their nation’s abili­ty to defend its­elf against mar­ket mani­pu­la­ti­on by the Chi­ne­se. 

Sin­ce India was part of the ori­gi­nal nego­tia­ti­ons, the coun­try can join at any time (wit­hout wai­ting the 18-month wai­ting peri­od requi­red for new mem­bers), but India can ins­tead con­ti­nue bila­te­ral agree­ments with some RCEP mem­bers ins­tead of joi­ning with all of them. Curr­ent­ly, the only RCEP nati­ons with which India does not have a trade agree­ment are Chi­na and New Zea­land.

Eit­her way, the situa­ti­on is a clas­sic exam­p­le of how a “no,” can be levera­ge in a nego­tia­ti­on.


While U.S. Pre­si­dent-elect Joe Biden assu­res the world that he is com­mit­ted to fur­ther nego­tia­ti­ons with Iran to curb its nuclear pro­gram, Iran announ­ced an expan­si­on of its ura­ni­um enrich­ment pro­gram and fur­ther rest­ric­tions on United Nati­ons moni­to­ring of its nuclear pro­gram. Bri­tain, Ger­ma­ny, and France declared Iran’s ambi­ti­ons “deep­ly troubling.”

The Trump admi­nis­tra­ti­on has deci­ded to pull out of the pre­vious Joint Com­pre­hen­si­ve Plan of Action (JCPOA) agree­ment and ins­tead pres­su­re Iran with eco­no­mic sanc­tions. Biden is see­king to revi­ve rela­ti­ons through the Oba­ma-Biden-era JCPOA, but Iran’s ambi­ti­ons to acqui­re nuclear capa­bi­li­ties (for peaceful pur­po­ses only, accor­ding to Ira­ni­an lea­ders) could pro­vi­de the Biden admi­nis­tra­ti­on with an excel­lent bar­gai­ning chip.

Ten­si­ons heigh­ten­ed with the ass­as­si­na­ti­on of Moh­sen Fakhriz­adeh, the country’s lea­ding nuclear sci­en­tist, in Novem­ber. Iran bla­mes Isra­el for the act. In Janu­ary 2019, U.S. forces ass­as­si­na­ted an Ira­ni­an Revo­lu­tio­na­ry Guard com­man­der. Will the Biden administration’s efforts con­vin­ce Iran to com­ply with the terms of the JCPOA, or will its nuclear ambi­ti­ons gain momen­tum from recent pro­gress in the country’s nuclear pro­gram and outra­ge over last year’s bla­tant attacks?


Ethio­pian Prime Minis­ter Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Pri­ze for his efforts to reach a peace agree­ment with the sta­te of Eri­trea in 2019, but he has shown no signs of wil­ling­ness to nego­tia­te in his country’s con­flicts with the Tigray People’s Libe­ra­ti­on Front (TPLF), the main force in Ethiopia’s govern­ment from 1991 until ear­ly 2018. Ins­tead, govern­ment forces now con­trol all major cities in the Afri­can nati­on and have taken the fight to rural are­as, whe­re thou­sands of batt­le-har­den­ed TPLF figh­ters live.

The ori­gi­nal­ly Mar­xist-Leni­nist TPLF has domi­na­ted Ethio­pian poli­tics sin­ce 1991, when it ous­ted the govern­ment of Mar­xist dic­ta­tor Men­gis­tu Hai­le Mari­am. It was also the TPLF that waged war against Eri­trea from 1998–2000 and con­ti­nues to regu­lar­ly fire mis­siles at Eritrea’s capi­tal, Asma­ra, to this day. The country’s auto­cra­tic lea­der, Isai­as Afwerki, with his 200,000 tro­ops, is an important bar­gai­ning chip for Ethio­pian Pre­si­dent Ahmed.

Many obser­vers are ama­zed that Ahmed’s army is able to eli­mi­na­te the TPLF thre­at so quick­ly. Some pre­dict even bloo­dier con­fron­ta­ti­ons bet­ween the two par­ties and per­haps even the geo­po­li­ti­cal divi­si­on of Ethio­pia, Africa’s second most popu­lous coun­try after Nige­ria and — alt­hough still very poor — one of the region’s fas­test gro­wing eco­no­mies.

As with the Arme­nia-Azer­bai­jan con­fron­ta­ti­on, the under­ly­ing ten­si­ons may resist reso­lu­ti­on given the stron­gly con­flic­ting desi­res bet­ween the cur­rent govern­ment and the dis­pla­ced rulers. 40,000 Ethio­pians have fled across the bor­der into Sudan, and aid agen­ci­es are pre­pa­ring for 200,000 refu­gees.

If nego­tia­ti­ons do not take place, it is enti­re­ly pos­si­ble that Ethio­pia will suf­fer a split-even if the TPLF is sound­ly defea­ted.


The U.S. has hel­ped bro­ker agree­ments to nor­ma­li­ze Israel’s rela­ti­ons with the United Arab Emi­ra­tes (UAE) and Bah­rain. With the Sep­tem­ber sig­ning at the White House, Bah­rain, Isra­el and the U.S. said they would con­ti­nue their efforts “to achie­ve a just, com­pre­hen­si­ve and las­ting solu­ti­on to the Israe­li-Pal­es­ti­ni­an con­flict that allows the Pal­es­ti­ni­an peo­p­le to rea­li­ze their full poten­ti­al.”

While the Pal­es­ti­ni­an lea­der­ship sees this as a betra­y­al of the Arab cau­se, Israe­li Prime Minis­ter Ben­ja­min Net­an­ya­hu than­ked Donald Trump, say­ing, “It took 26 years bet­ween the second peace agree­ment with an Arab coun­try and the third, but only 29 days bet­ween the third and the fourth, and the­re will be more,” refer­ring to the 1994 peace trea­ty with Jor­dan.

It took 26 years bet­ween the second peace agree­ment with an Arab coun­try and the third, but only 29 days bet­ween the third and the fourth, and the­re will be more

While any diplo­ma­tic rela­ti­onship that allows for nego­tia­ti­on rather than aggres­si­on is to be com­men­ded, this one is par­ti­cu­lar­ly deli­ca­te.

While the U.S. has never been neu­tral in this con­flict, it has sur­pri­sed the world with a series of pro-Isra­el actions, such as moving the U.S. embas­sy to Jeru­sa­lem, reco­gni­zing Israel’s occu­pa­ti­on of the Golan Heights, and clo­sing the PLO offices in Washing­ton, DC.

Accor­ding to the United Sta­tes Insti­tu­te of Peace, “The rifts bet­ween the Israe­li and Pal­es­ti­ni­an posi­ti­ons, wider now than at any time sin­ce 1967, are approa­ching the point whe­re they were unbrid­geable.”

Are the rifts bet­ween the Israe­li and Pal­es­ti­ni­an posi­ti­ons, wider now than at any time sin­ce 1967, approa­ching the point whe­re they were unbrid­geable.

Donald Trump has cal­led the reso­lu­ti­on of the Israe­li-Pal­es­ti­ni­an con­flict the “deal of the cen­tu­ry.” And inde­ed, if the Arab sta­tes were to nor­ma­li­ze their rela­ti­onship with Isra­el, the Pal­es­ti­ni­an nego­tia­ting posi­ti­on would suf­fer enorm­ously and, if more count­ries fol­low suit, even implo­de.


Con­cerns over natio­nal secu­ri­ty and the popu­lar Chi­ne­se-owned app Tik­Tok led to a U.S. demand that Tik­Tok sell its rights to ope­ra­te in the U.S. to a U.S. com­pa­ny or cea­se ope­ra­ti­ons altog­e­ther. India out­la­wed Tik­Tok in June 2019, citing simi­lar issues. 

Asi­de from the Trump administration’s demands, nego­tia­ti­ons with Tik­Tok ran past the Decem­ber dead­line, and a U.S. fede­ral judge blo­cked a ban on the Tik­Tok plat­form. Trump cri­tics say the pre­si­dent is using Tik­Tok as a bar­gai­ning chip against Chi­na, but the move is not wit­hout pre­ce­dent. India ban­ned Tik­Tok and a num­ber of other Chi­ne­se apps last sum­mer on the grounds that they “enga­ge in acti­vi­ties that affect [India’s] sove­reig­n­ty and inte­gri­ty.” Cri­tics accu­sed India of the same poli­ti­cal moti­ves now impu­ted to Trump.

Tik­Tok and other Chi­ne­se apps are invol­ved in acti­vi­ties that affect [India’s] sove­reig­n­ty and inte­gri­ty.

TikTok’s owner, Byte­Dance, is in the pro­cess of nego­tia­ting a deal with Ora­cle and Walm­art to acqui­re the U.S. busi­ness, a move not favor­ed by Chi­na. The injunc­tion pro­vi­des more room for nego­tia­ti­on and will likely keep the Tik­Tok con­tro­ver­sy going, per­haps to gain a more tole­rant view of Chi­ne­se busi­ness acti­vi­ties by the inco­ming Biden admi­nis­tra­ti­on. Given the recent crack­down on Face­book and other social media plat­forms, con­cern about TikTok’s ambi­ti­ons does not seem extra­or­di­na­ri­ly far-fet­ched.


The votes are in and Joe Biden will be the next Pre­si­dent of the United Sta­tes … or will he? Befo­re the elec­tion, Pre­si­dent Donald Trump expres­sed fears that his oppon­ents would use the coro­na­vi­rus pan­de­mic to exploit the absen­tee bal­lot to hedge their bets on the out­co­me of the elec­tion. And as soon as the swing sta­tes swung toward Biden, Trump began to ques­ti­on the authen­ti­ci­ty of the votes cast. 

Appeals appear to be near­ly exhaus­ted at the sta­te level, but Trump’s att­or­ney, Rudy Giu­lia­ni, has filed peti­ti­ons with the U.S. Supre­me Court to review the decis­i­ons of lower courts in Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia. The dis­pu­te is likely to cul­mi­na­te on Janu­ary 6, 2021, when the elec­tion results are expec­ted to be cer­ti­fied (or not) by the United Sta­tes Con­gress.

While many of Trump’s sup­port­ers, both poli­ti­cal and civic, con­ti­nue to fight along­side him, expres­sing outra­ge at reports con­fir­ming see­mingly frau­du­lent acti­vi­ties, many others have caved in to the see­mingly ine­vi­ta­ble out­co­me — espe­ci­al­ly as the courts seem to have litt­le inte­rest in inter­vening. His hand is wea­k­e­ning, and many of his for­mer allies are aban­do­ning him.

In a clas­sic move, Trump hesi­ta­ted to sign a coro­na­vi­rus bill that was pre­sen­ted to him just befo­re Christ­mas 2020. He drew hea­vy fire from both sides of the fence, but his actions could ser­ve as a text­book case in the art of nego­tia­ti­on. By lin­king his objec­tions to the packa­ge to a desi­re to see more money go to the peo­p­le, Trump effec­tively forced his Demo­cra­tic oppon­ents to agree to a pre­si­dent they have con­sis­t­ent­ly fier­ce­ly oppo­sed throug­hout his ten­ure.

The­re is a nego­tia­ti­on tech­ni­que named after the 45th pre­si­dent, “The Trump Wal­kout.” Donald J. Trump was a strong nego­tia­tor becau­se ever­yo­ne knew that if he did­n’t get what he wan­ted, he would get up and lea­ve. I am sure he will know when to use it.

In 2021 Jack wants to give live semi­nars again. Some dates are alre­a­dy set and will be post­po­ned if neces­sa­ry, but Jack hopes to meet with peo­p­le again next year. You should regis­ter as soon as pos­si­ble, becau­se you won’t learn to nego­tia­te real­ly well for less.


Ori­gi­nal publi­ca­ti­on “Top 10 World Chan­ging Nego­tia­ti­ons For 2021” on FOR­BES.

Live semi­nars in 2021 — open nego­tia­ti­on trai­nings

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