Coming together to find solutions in 'fractured world'

Mr Borge Brende at a press conference in Cologny, near Geneva, on Jan 16. He says there is a trust deficit in the world today and "we need to re-create trust, and the basis for cooperation, between governments" as well as "between government and busi
Mr Borge Brende at a press conference in Cologny, near Geneva, on Jan 16. He says there is a trust deficit in the world today and "we need to re-create trust, and the basis for cooperation, between governments" as well as "between government and business, and with civil society".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ahead of this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting, I spoke with WEF president Borge Brende for his take on the big themes likely to feature in the week-long conference.

Q Why did the WEF frame this year's conference on the theme of a "shared future in a fractured world"?

A We are facing many common challenges globally, but not always seeing the necessary cooperation to deal with these.

We see increased geopolitical competition. We see a global economy that is growing quite substantially, and we believe this is the time to make globalisation more equitable, inclusive and sustainable.

These challenges can only be tackled if we find common solutions, and deal with them in a multi-stakeholder way. The WEF is about business, government and civil society coming together to find solutions.

Q Quite a few of the discussions on the agenda this week relate to the issue of "trust". Why is that?

A There is a trust deficit in the world today. We are in a multipolar world, with more geopolitical competition, and unfortunately also proxy conflicts. We need to re-create trust, and the basis for cooperation, between governments. But also between government and business, and with civil society.

Q What about trust between leaders and the people?

A That is also crucial. Because of the economic crisis, people's trust towards their leaders has been eroded. This has led to a rise in nationalist, populist and protectionist forces.

It is necessary to make sure that growth, which is picking up and creating more jobs, that wealth is trickling down. It is important everyone sees for themselves they are gaining, and benefiting from international trade and cooperation.

Q That leads me to the question of United States President Donald Trump's planned appearance. Why did the WEF decide to invite him?

A We invited the US President in October and got the confirmation he was coming this month.

For us, it is very important to have the head of state of the largest economy at the conference.

The US is making fundamental tax reforms, reviewing trade policy, and embarking on infrastructure investment.

Participants in Davos want to hear from the President his views on global cooperation.

Q So he is definitely coming, despite the problems in the US with the government shutdown?

A We will see... I think we will know this in the coming days.

In any case, this year, we will have over 70 heads of government, and six of the G-7 leaders. So we will have a very strong meeting.

The opener for the meeting will be India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the world's largest democracy and one of its fastest-growing economies.

We will have Canada's PM Justin Trudeau, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and French President Emmanuel Macron. We also have new leaders, such as those from Zimbabwe and Angola.

Q One interesting feature is that all seven chairmen this year are women.

A The 21st century should also be for women, and girls, and gender parity. We are sending a strong message in this regard.

Q What do you hope, personally, will be the key takeaways from this year's conference?

A I hope we will secure stronger and deeper cooperation between countries, leading companies and civil society organisations in addressing key challenges, such as how we can decouple economic growth from growth in C02 emissions, and ensure the fourth industrial revolution benefits everyone.

I hope we can ensure the growth we are now seeing is more inclusive. I also hope it gives developing countries a chance to be part of global development.

Finally, all of us at WEF are very happy to be welcoming your Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office to Davos.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'Coming together to find solutions in 'fractured world''. Print Edition | Subscribe