World Economic Forum 2023: Worries in Davos that globalization is under siege


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Davos, Switzerland – A decade ago, political power brokers and corporate bigwigs gathered here in the Swiss Alps under an ambitious theme. The organizers of the 2013 meeting of the World Economic Forum declared that it was time for “flexible dynamics”. After the difficulties of the global financial crisis, he explained, the world is now in a “post-crisis” phase. It required the elites convened in Davos to launch further reforms in the service of economic “sustainability” and “competitiveness,” perennial WEF watchwords that tap into the liberal dogma that has long underpinned its proceedings. , where the desire to do good is not required. Interference with profit margins.

Ten years on, less optimism appears. Rather than a “post-crisis” moment, it’s more common to speak of a “permacrisis,” in which the world is reeling under an endless cascade of disasters—war, climate catastrophe, energy prices. In chaos, inflation, epidemics of hunger and disease, political instability and growing economic inequality. This year’s WEF theme, a plaintive appeal to find “cooperation in a fragmented world,” seems to echo the fracturing already occurring. In a press call with reporters last week, WEF President Borg Brande said the meeting would take place “against the most complex geopolitical and geoeconomic backdrop in decades.”

Concerns about a possible global recession are high on the agenda. There is also the vexing challenge of climate change and the ongoing war in Ukraine and its downstream effects, including a decline in world grain trade that has contributed to famine conditions in sub-Saharan Africa. paid Underlying all this is Davos’s deepest concern: few institutions are immediately linked as forums to the project of neoliberalism and globalization. In an age of rising nationalism and great power rivalry, where America itself is fighting trade wars, where does globalization go?

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The latest cover story in the Economist, which presents an issue every year that tries to explain the Davos zeitgeist, laments the “new logic that threatens globalization”. He denounced the Biden administration’s “abandonment of free market principles for aggressive industrial policy,” including subsidy-laden programs to power the United States’ green transition, as well as the country’s semiconductor manufacturing. New attempts to build a stronghold were indicated.

All of this, the classically liberal economist argues, has “started a dangerous spiral in protectionism around the world” and has shaken the world order that the United States helped create and preserve after World War II. Spend decades. It may even threaten “the causes of liberal democracy and market capitalism”.

The war in Ukraine brings an unusual moral edge to Davos.

The hosts in Davos want to hold the line. Tuesday morning’s kickoff panel, featuring economic historians Adam Toews and Neil Ferguson, is set to consider “de-globalization or re-globalization.” The latter concept reflects new trends of the moment, in which governments and multinational companies are restructuring supply chains away from conflict zones and hostile states. This is in view of the departure of large numbers of Western companies from Russia and China.

“I would say we are in a moment of re-globalization,” Tengku Zafar Al Aziz, Malaysia’s minister of trade and industry, told me at his country’s pavilion along Davos’ snow-covered main promenade. In the short term, Malaysia could benefit from companies and businesses moving from China to Southeast Asian markets – but the bigger picture is more worrying, he said.

“People are becoming more muted,” he said. “In the long term, we are concerned about rising trade costs.”

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The forum estimates that this year’s attendance will include the highest number of political and business leaders ever to make the trek to the mountain, including more than 50 heads of state or government, 56 finance ministers, 19 central bankers. Governor, 30 trade ministers and 35 are included. Foreign Ministers

But in their absence, most of the leaders of the world’s major economies are conspicuous. German Chancellor Olaf Schulz will be the only Group of Seven leader to attend, with his European counterparts likely to be keen to avoid cozying up to the global elite while their own people grapple with life-threatening crises. are Home. Among top Biden administration officials are U.S. Climate Envoy John F. Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Catherine Tay, who may find themselves engaged in testy talks throughout the week given current events.

After a hiatus during the pandemic, China has sent its own high-level delegation, led by Vice Premier Liu He, who is scheduled to deliver one of the event’s keynote addresses on Tuesday. It marks a return of Beijing’s engagement with the forum, though still not at the level it offered in 2017, when Chinese President Xi Jinping himself keynote the proceedings with a speech defending globalization. on which presented China as a supporter of the liberal order. It was then seen as a statement of intent by a leader eager to seize the mantle of global leadership and a thinly veiled jab at a newly installed ultra-nationalist Trump administration bent on populist disruption.

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That Davos moment was arguably a high-water mark for Xi Jinping on the world stage.. In the years since, his authoritarian fist has tightened at home, while many governments elsewhere see China under his leadership as a threat, if not necessarily an adversary. Whatever the WEF’s pleas for dialogue and cooperation, there is a growing view in the West that Xi Jinping’s designs on Taiwan must be checked. There is also an emerging consensus that China’s entry into the World Trade Organization two decades ago – perhaps the single most important event in the history of globalization – was a mistake.

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In 2013, WEF organizers hailed the participation of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as a national leader who understood “global responsibilities”. Of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with Medvedev, are now all figures at Davos, as well as a host of Russian oligarchs and business elites who used to throw some of the most lavish parties around the forum. The talks will be overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, with a large delegation from Kyiv, including Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska.

A large part of the forum has little to do with the torment of politicians or pundits. From food security to youth education to forestry (WEF has pledged to restore and plant a trillion trees worldwide), dozens of discussions highlight examples of innovation and collaboration in the private sector. And there will be events. WEF organizers talk in technical language about how forum participants are enabling “positive change in systems” and moving the world toward a happier, more sustainable future.

“There’s a cynicism around Davos, they might say it’s a talk shop,” says Panjani Makambola, who works on fortifying cereals with minerals and vitamins in the developing world at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. told me “But there are a lot of positives that emerge. A lot of partnerships get faked, a lot of work gets done and sometimes you only see the results years later.


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