DAVOS – It is a question that is asked every year:
Why do influential leaders travel thousands of miles in mid-winter to the Alpine resort town of Davos – where temperatures hover around minus 2 deg C to minus 8 deg C – to discuss world affairs in search of solutions? And what really comes out of it?
This year is no exception: The Davos Congress Centre is packed with political and business leaders from around the world who have gathered for the annual meeting that is being held from Monday to Friday.
Top-level industry observers and decision-makers are expected to give their take on complex issues of the day, of which there are plenty. The 110-page programme document listing details of the 450 sessions bears testimony to that.
Some of the sessions on the economic front will do little to lift spirits, with many signalling more difficult times ahead. Some indicative titles: De-globalisation Or Re-Globalisation, Staying Ahead Of A Recession, and The Cost-Of-Living Crisis.
Sign-ups for some of the key sessions have ended within minutes of being opened up by the World Economic Forum. This is not entirely surprising, with participation at the forum having reached – if not exceeded – pre-pandemic levels, indicating clearly the quest for new ideas and solutions.
There are nearly 2,700 delegates at this year’s meeting, including slightly over 600 chief executive officers, nearly 400 ministers, and several other well-known newsmakers.
Nearly 56 finance ministers, 30 trade ministers and 19 central bankers will weigh in on top-of-mind issues such as economic growth, food security and the energy crisis.
But the buzz surrounding the presence of top global leaders is slightly muted, with many opting to be absent from the forum. The list includes those heading the world’s biggest economies. In fact, most of the Group of Seven leaders are giving the forum a miss as well.
United States President Joe Biden, who made it to Asia for key summits hosted by South-east Asian economies late last year, will not be in Davos. Neither will his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, although China’s Vice-Premier Liu He will deliver a special address at the forum on Tuesday.
Given the state of US-China relations, further discussions between the two top leaders could have allowed them to improve, and would have tied in well with the annual meeting’s theme for the year: Cooperation in a fragmented world.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo are also keeping away. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not attending the meet, even though the country holds the Group of 20 presidency for the year.
The leaders of the United Kingdom and France – Mr Rishi Sunak and Mr Emmanuel Macron – will not be showing up either.
Several business leaders will be attending the forum. The list is long and includes names like Mr Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase and Co, BlackRock Inc’s chairman and CEO Laurence D. Fink, Microsoft’s chairman and CEO Satya Nadella, and Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla, among others.
But publication Quartz reports that nine of the world’s 10 richest people are missing this year’s meeting.
In their absence, there are those who debate the impact of discussions and decisions to be made at the forum and whether it could help prevent recession – the key worry for many of the delegates.
The continuing Russian war in Ukraine and lingering concern over the appearance of new variants of Covid-19, which has gone up a few notches after China decided to end its zero-Covid policy and ease controls, have added to concerns.
Few have questioned the absence of Russians from the meeting.
Issues tied to the disruption of supply chains and the food and energy crisis will be taken up.
But, as a survey of chief economists acknowledges, the forecasts are bleak. The majority of those polled for the forum’s Chief Economists Outlook believe the situation is gloomier than what they thought three months ago, and more than two-thirds forecast a global recession in 2023.
Still, those at the forum will endeavour to do their part and several new collaborations are expected.
The forum has done much in the past. The Gavi vaccine alliance, for example, was launched in 2000. The partnership enabled the shipment of over one billion Covid-19 vaccines around the world during the pandemic.
But there is much more to do.
Talks may just provide some measure of protection in these uncertain times, just as shoe spikes do on slippery snow.