Agence France Presse

Geneva, January 23:

Global political and business leaders are expected to focus heavily on economic issues, including the fight against poverty and climate change, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) beginning on Wednesday.

The presidents of Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa are scheduled to attend the five-day long meeting in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, primarily to whip up more support for developing countries, the organisers said.

British prime minister Tony Blair is to address the opening session in a speech organisers said would center on climate change, while French president Jacques Chirac was slated to outline proposals on financing sustainable development.

About 2,200 heads of state, politicians, captains of industry, academics and other experts from 96 countries will also be asked to examine key global issues at a “crucial moment”, WEF executive chairman Klaus Schwab said, “There are a number of new beginnings, from the new presidency of the European Commission, to the election of new president for the Palestinian Authority, to the coming elections in Iraq and the new leadership in Ukraine.” Officials expected Palestinian and Israeli participants, including foreign minister Silvan Shalom and deputy prime minister Shimon Peres, to “try to relaunch goodwill between parties” in background discussions.

While no major figures from the US administration had been announced, Europeans were due in force, including German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the Polish and Czech presidents and the new president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

The WEF said it had worked closely with the British chairmanship of the G8 group of industralised countries this year to prepare discussions on poverty and climate change.

“I’ve never seen so much attention on the climate change issue, partly because of the G8 placing it on its agenda this year,” a WEF managing director, Richard Samans, said. Nigeria’s president Olesegun Obasanjo and his South African counterpart, Thabo Mbeki, are to take part in a high-profile debate with former US president Bill Clinton, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and musician Bono on whether the G8’s agenda for Africa was producing results.

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s second trip to the Swiss resort, aimed at securing investment in Brazil, will coincide with the alternative World Social Forum by opponents of globalisation and the Davos in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Lula — a former labour leader and a critic of big business — urged more funding to tackle poverty during his first trip to Davos in 2003.