The annual summit of the global elite of business, finance, and politics began on Tuesday in Davos under the umbrella of the World Economic Forum (WEF) amid the heaviest snowfall and conflicting global trade and economic developments.
Three thousand delegates, comprising top politicians, business leaders and representatives from civil society, culture, technology, science, religion and academia congregated in the congress centre to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi deliver the inaugural address in which he is expected set out India’s perspective on “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World".
WEF chief Klaus Schwab said he wants “smart globalization" in which markets are kept open and that governments must strive toward social cohesion and address issues concerning terrorism.
The WEF came into existence first as the European Management Forum for bringing together business leaders in Europe and the US. It changed its name to the WEF in 1987, making Davos the annual Mecca for the global economic, business and political elite.
On Monday, the prospects for this year’s 47th annual meeting seemed good after International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde delivered an upbeat economic assessment at Davos. She suggested the “broadest synchronized global growth upsurge since 2010", arguing that “all signs point to a further strengthening (in global growth) both this year and next."
The world economy is forecast to grow 3.9% in 2018. India is forecast to grow 7.4% this year, according to the IMF.
Almost 10 years after the global economic crisis in 2008, amid a pickup in economic growth in Greece and other slump-driven-countries, “chief executives’ optimism in the global economy is driven by economic indicators being so strong", said Robert E. Moritz, global chairman of PwC. “It’s no surprise CEOs are so bullish," he said.
However, Swiss banking giant UBS cautioned the Davos participants “not to be complacent about financial risks". UBS suggested that “volatility" is very much present and that it should be factored into all assessments.
But US President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to address the Davos crowd on Friday, brought jitters to the meeting by his decision on late Monday evening to slap tariffs on imports of solar cells and washing machines from China and South Korea.
Under an archaic US law called Section 201 that imposes “safeguard duties" to protect American companies from “serious injury", Trump approved tariffs for imports of large residential washers and solar cells. The US will now impose 50% tariff on imported washing machines for next three years. On imports of solar cells and modules, the US will impose additional tariffs of 30% for the next four years.
The US action is going to provoke a backlash of opposition at the World Trade Organization (WTO) because in the past the US had lost all trade disputes on safeguard actions on steel and other items, said a participant at the Davos meeting, who asked not to be named.
Ironically, the US action to slap safeguard duties came on a day when South Korea sought permission from the WTO to impose trade retaliatory measures worth $711 million on American goods because of Washington’s non-compliance with the trade body’s recommendations against anti-dumping and countervailing measures imposed by the US on the Asian nation’s large residential washers.
“There will be a clash between the supporters of global capitalism and free markets on the one side and those seeking America First trade policies on the other at this WEF’s meeting during the next four days," said another Davos participant on condition of anonymity.