US President Donald Trump yesterday declared “America is back”, and open for business now that it is once again competitive, and signalled his readiness to reopen trade talks if he could get a “better deal” for the United States.
He disclosed he would be willing to renegotiate with countries that are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), “individually, or perhaps as a group, if it is in the interests of all”.
His statement came just days after the 11 remaining TPP members (TPP-11) announced they had reached agreement to move ahead without the US. Mr Trump had withdrawn his country from the pact by executive order in one of his first acts as President.
Delivering the closing address at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting, he told business and political leaders gathered in this Swiss alpine resort that there was no better time than now to start investing in the US again, touting his efforts to cut taxes and remove bureaucracy in his country. He also claimed credit for the run-up in stock markets and economic growth that has occurred in his first year in office.
“After years of stagnation the United States is once again experiencing strong economic growth,” he said. “Consumer confidence, business confidence and manufacturing confidence are the highest they have ever been in many decades.”
“The world is experiencing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America. America is open for business and we are competitive once again,” he said.
Taking his “America first” message to a sceptical Davos crowd – traditional supporters of globalisation and free trade – Mr Trump argued that as US President, he would naturally put his country and his citizens’ interest as his top priority, just as leaders everywhere were expected to do.
Besides, he added, “America first” benefited the world, as it gave rise to trade, created jobs and opened the way for businesses to start investing in the US again.
“When the United States grows, so does the world. American prosperity has created countless jobs around the globe and the drive for excellence, creativity and innovation in the United States has led to important discoveries that help people everywhere live more prosperous and healthier lives.”
Addressing the concerns about growing protectionism in the world, as voiced by several other leaders here this week, he argued that “America first did not mean America alone”. He offered America’s friendship and partnership and called on countries to work together to tackle common challenges, such as terrorism and the threat posed by North Korea.
But he also made clear that while the US believed in free trade, it “needs to be fair, and it needs to be reciprocal”.
“We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others... The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices.”
On the TPP, Mr Trump had said in an interview with CNBC on the eve of his address that he “would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal. The deal was terrible, the way it was structured was terrible. If we did a substantially better deal, I would be open to TPP.”
Mr Trump was the first US president to address the Davos meeting in person in 18 years. Long lines gathered outside the Congress Hall more than an hour before he was due to speak, as participants queued to hear the man who has often hit out at global elites and the liberal economic order they had fashioned, which he charged with destroying jobs and communities in the US.
Minutes before he appeared on stage, the audience was surprised to see an American marching band emerge and take up position. They then played military marches as Mr Trump and Mr Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of WEF, stood awkwardly at attention on stage for several minutes, before Mr Schwab welcomed the President warmly to Davos. He noted that participants were very eager to hear the President’s address, which he later described as “inspiring”, drawing flak from some participants afterwards.
The American President, together with several members of his Cabinet, was in Davos for a whirlwind 36 hours. He met leaders of Britain, Israel, Rwanda and Switzerland, and also hosted a dinner for corporate chiefs, during which he urged them to invest in the US.
In response to a question, Mr Trump disclosed that he had met top business leaders and “made some new friends”, after they pledged to bring billions of dollars in investments to the US. This, he said, had been sparked by his tax cuts, which saw companies competing to share the money they saved with their workers.
Several times during the rather muted and even low-key hour-long session, he would repeat his refrain that “there has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States”.
As a parting shot, he took up the issue of the widening income inequalities which have given rise to resentment against globalisation, a major theme of discussions here this week, and called on the business and political leaders in the room to use their power and influence to uplift the lives of ordinary people everywhere.