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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Davos 2019: Wef sets tone with inclusive message of Globalisation 4.0 theme for annual meeting

January's gathering in the Swiss mountain resort will address how globalisation can ensure a more sustainable global economy

People walk through the resort town of Davos as snow falls ahead of the World Economic Forum's 2018 annual meeting in Switzerland. Photo by AFP
People walk through the resort town of Davos as snow falls ahead of the World Economic Forum's 2018 annual meeting in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

The theme of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos next year will be Globalisation 4.0 as the Swiss organisation vies to send a more inclusive message in the wake of an increasingly fragmented political landscape in developed countries.

The Wef has been criticised by its detractors as an elitist organisation that has helped promote the inequalities of globalisation. As the US and China exchange protectionist volleys in an escalating trade conflict that threatens to undermine global economic growth, the Forum which views itself as platform for dialogue, seeks to shape the discourse around the business world for a more sustainable future.

“I don’t believe trade wars are an answer. Trade is not a weapon,” said Børge Brende, the Forum’s president and a former Norwegian minister of foreign affairs. “We are worried we are seeing a faster slowdown in the world economy. The only way to sustain growth is to come together.”

Last month, the International Monetary Fund cut its global economic forecast for this year and next, the first downgrade since July 2016, due to strained trade ties, vulnerable emerging markets and sluggish growth in the euro zone, which is facing the uncertainty of Brexit and American protectionism. The global economy will now grow 3.7 per cent in 2018 and 2019, 0.2 percentage points lower than the fund’s July forecast, and at the same pace of 2017.

Former Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende, who is the president of the World Economic Forum (Wef). Photo by AFP 
Former Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende, who is the president of the World Economic Forum (Wef). Photo by AFP

The Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, which has gained a reputation for being exclusive, typically draws hundreds of global leaders and chief executives to the Swiss mountain resort. Last year, US President Donald Trump was the big attraction - where he declared America ‘open for business’. Mr Trump attended despite his assertions of being at odds with the multi-lateral posture of institutions like the Wef.

A wave of populism in the Americas and in Europe has created a multi-polar landscape in which there are many different ways to look at economics and to run governments, Mr Brende said.

Globalisation “will not be stopped but it should be improved," he said. "There are skeptical forces when it comes to globalisation and the results of globalisation, especially in some OECD countries. It needs to be more inclusive, job creating, sustainable and equitable.”

Mr Trump's rallying cry during the presidential race and in the run up to the midterm elections this week has been all about the preservation of American jobs, protecting US companies and pressuring firms to scale back on outsourcing operations to Asia.

Against such a backdrop, it's no surprise the Wef is concerned and that if a slowdown or global recession does in fact materialise, the “gunpowder to fight an economic downturn” won't be there, said Mr Brende.

It's “more and more clear the world needs a new framework for global co-operation based on new realities,” Mr Brende said.

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More from the Wef:

Davos 2018: The outlook of the global economy

Davos 2018: Trump roiled the elite on campaign - now he joins them

Business Extra Podcast: A tour of Davos 2018

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“There is a lack of co-operation today. There are pressing issues that need to be addressed in a multi stakeholder way.”

Climate change and biodiversity are at the forefront of these challenges.

“We are currently acting like we have two planets at our disposal, with one in reserve, which is not the case. We are setting fire to the library of nature,” Mr Brende said.

In recent years, the Wef has championed the “paradigm shift" brought on by rapid evolution of technology. The Forum has worked to support the development of a global architecture in the age of the fourth industrial revolution – a phrase coined by the organisation’s founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab.

“It is no secret that the founder is extremely good at catching the zeitgeist and pushing the envelope,” by defining the theme of Globalisation 4.0, Mr Brende said in reference to Mr Schwab.

Artificial intelligence, blockchain, the internet of things (IoT) and Big Data, the bedrock of the fourth industrial revolution, will continue to shape and mold the future in a fundamental way, said Mr Brende.

Key figures from G7 and G20 countries will attend the upcoming Davos gathering in January, Mr Brende said. He declined to specify who the main speakers will be.

“The only way to [operate in] a multi-stakeholder way is to have all the relevant actors in the room,” he said.

The Wef will ensure a variety of viewpoints are represented at the annual meeting to provide a more balanced debate around the future of globalisation.