World leaders, business bosses and charity executives have three themes on the tips of their tongues at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. And they are not related to the heaviest snowfall in two decades at the exclusive mountain ski resort — threatening to thwart the landing of delegates’ helicopters.
Initial meetings at the forum were dominated by US president Donald Trump. After all, the official theme of this year’s forum is “creating a shared future in a fractured world” which Trump has arguably helped to create. Aside from the bombastic US leader, the hottest topics for the more than 2,500 delegates from business, politics, media and more are climate change, artificial intelligence (AI), Brexit, and rising inequality and sexual harassment.
Trump’s “America First” mantra is at odds with what the WEF stands for — the idea that the world’s most pressing challenges should be solved by nations banding together. Trump on the other hand, has marked his first year in the Oval Office with protectionism and isolation from America’s allies.
The potential for world trade disruption under Trump will loom large at this year’s forum. The president has indicated via Tweets that he may consider pulling out of the WTO system used by 164 nations, including the world’s top trading countries.
Klaus Schwab, who founded and chairs the WEF, said that “no individual alone can solve the issues on the global agenda”, adding that the world was at an inflection point where there was a “real danger of a collapse of our global systems”.
Delegates — and the world — will be watching Trump’s keynote address on Friday keenly.
Brexit and UK’s Trading
The UK’s impending departure from the single market will be less prominent at this year’s forum. But the upcoming Davos meeting of UK premier Theresa May and Trump has caused a stir, after Trump shelved plans to open a new $1 billion US embassy in London.
The two leaders’ relationship was also strained when Trump appeared to Tweet support for the far-right political group Britain First.
May’s attendance, and that of Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, will provide an opportunity for Britain to speak with European leaders ahead of trade talks later this year. Representatives from all 28 EU member states will be at the forum, including the French president Emmanuel Macron.
McDonnell is expected to make a pitch for rewriting the rules of the global economy, while May is likely to explain why the UK will still be a key player on the global stage outside of the world’s largest trading bloc.
March of the Machines
A reoccurring theme at Davos, the increasing prevalence of AI, robotics and the automation of jobs will be hotly debated. A one-to-one interview with Schwab and Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai will provide fertile ground for discussion.
Talk on the so-called “fourth industry revolution” will likely focus on how the potential loss of millions of jobs as a result of technology could worsen social inequality. How the world’s leading economies govern and tax technology, and how to do so across borders, is expected to sit high on the week’s agenda.