Global giants to throng economic meet

Geneva, January 23:

Over 730 business leaders — more than ever before and representing almost all the world’s leading companies — are descending on this picturesque Swiss ski resort for the annual jamboree of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Many of their discussions will revolve around the rising economic powers China and India. In all, more than 2,300 leading figures from politics, business, religion, arts and sports are expected to attend. Delivering the opening speech on Wednesday will be Angela Merkel, Germany’s first female chancellor. Merkel will be the top-ranking representative of the world’s seven leading industrial countries and Russia (G-8), currently chaired by Russia. China is sending a large delegation led by deputy prime minister Zeng Peiyan.

So far, neither Russian president Vladimir Putin nor his US counterpart George W Bush has announced they would take part.

But even without them, the Geneva-based WEF, as usual, awaits a veritable avalanche of prominent people. “You’ve no idea how many top politicians and businesspeople want

to be in Davos, and we’ve got to say no!” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman. Now in its 35th year, the annual gathering in the Swiss Alps is still going strong despite criticism from some public interest groups that it is an exclusive club of corporate and government bigwigs.

Schwab has long been aware that the WEF could become an international soapbox. “The Forum has got to keep out of overly politicised issues,” he said, stressing that its focus was economic, not political.

There will be representatives from almost every corner of the globe in Davos, with 14 heads of state and government as well as 60 government ministers. Energy security is to be one of their main topics. And about 20 trade ministers are likely to continue the talks they held last December in Hong Kong at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation.

Schwab said the WEF was a unique opportunity for decision-makers to learn what their colleagues were thinking. And there will be plenty of discussion during the nearly 250 meetings on the agenda. The theme of this year’s gathering is ‘The Creative Imperative’.

Asked to translate that into German, Schwab shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe we picked a theme that’s too difficult.”

But the meaning is clear:

Societies must keep developing further. They must think about, and discuss, how to develop. Ergo, they must be creative.