Davos: Seen and heard

World Economic Forum President Borge Brende on key themes at Davos

DAVOS, Switzerland - Ahead of the opening of this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting, I spoke with WEF President Borge Brende to get his take on the big themes that are 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 we are currently not always seeing the necessary cooperation to deal with these. We are seeing increased geopolitical competition. We are seeing a global economy that is again growing quite substantially, and we believe that this is the time to make globalisation more equitable, more inclusive, more sustainable.

These kinds of systemic challenges can only be tackled if we find common solutions, and if we deal with them in a multi-stakeholder way. This is what the WEF is all about, it is business, government and civil society coming together, to collaborate to find solutions.

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

A There is a trust deficit in the world today. We are now in a multipolar world, where we are seeing more geopolitical competition, and we are unfortunately also seeing 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 Yes, that is also very crucial. Because of the economic crisis, the trust of the people towards their leaders has been eroded. There is a trust deficit here too. This has led to a rise in nationalist, populist and protectionist forces, which are gaining ground.

What is now necessary is to make sure that the growth that we are now seeing, which is definitely picking up, and is also creating more jobs, we need to make sure that the wealth is trickling down. It important that everyone sees for themselves that they are gaining, and benefiting positively from international trade, and from international cooperation.

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

World Economic Forum President Borge Brende at a press conference, in Cologny near Geneva, on Jan 16, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A We invited the US President in October and have been working with the White House since then to schedule a visit. We got the confirmation that he was coming in early January.

For us, it is very important to have the head of state of the largest economy in the world at the conference. The US is also going through fundamental tax reforms, they are also reviewing their trade policy, and embarking on infrastructure investment.

So a lot of participants in Davos are very interested to hear from the president his views on global cooperation in the years to come.

Q So he is definitely going to come, despite the problems in the US with the government shut down?

A We will see... I think we will know this in the coming days. The Senate today is still negotiating, so we will see.

In any case, in Davos this year, we will have over 70 heads of government, we have six of the G7 leaders who will also be here. So we will have a very strong meeting this year.

The opener for the meeting this year will be India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the world's largest democracy and one of the world's fastest growing economies. We will also have Canada's PM Justin Trudeau, presenting the G7 agenda, we will have Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and French President Emmanuel Macron... We also have some new leaders, such as those from Zimbabwe and Angola, who will be here. So we will have a very exciting meeting.

Q Yes, one interesting feature is that all seven chair persons this year are women.

A Yes, it is a necessary signal that the 21st Century should also be century for women, and girls, and gender parity. We are sending a strong message in this regard. We need to make sure that gender parity is set as a top priority.

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

A Personally, I hope we will secure more, and stronger, deeper cooperation between countries, the leading companies of the world and civil society organisations in addressing the key challenges that we are facing.

Such as how can we decouple growth in the economy from growth in C02 emissions. Or how to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution is something that benefits all mankind.

I hope our discussions will ensure that the growth that we are now seeing, which is substantial, is also more inclusive, that it avoids new asset bubbles... I also hope that it gives developing countries a chance to be part of global development.

Finally, I would say that all of us at WEF are also very happy to be welcoming your Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in the Prime Minister's office to Davos this year.

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