Global movers&shakers descend on Davos

Geneva, January 21:

Top business and political leaders are being urged to confront mounting security and environmental challenges when they gather at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos next Wednesday.

The Forum’s founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab, said the 2,400 participants, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, must cast their eye beyond the growing world economy and the boom in emerging nations.

“I feel we are living in a schizophrenic world,” Schwab told journalists. “There is a good feeling about where we are but underneath there are so many risks, uncertainties and challenges,” he said.

An annual opinion poll for the Forum carried out in 60 countries last week revealed a growing sense of gloom in the world. Forty-eight per cent of the 55,000 people polled felt that their children will live in a less secure world, a sharp increase of the 30 per cent who felt the same way last year.

Blair said on the Forum’s website that the annual meeting comes at “a critical international moment”.

“Talks between leaders could help outline elements of a future post Kyoto climate framework that could then be agreed at the German G8, restart the stalled World Trade Organisation talks and galvanise the will to deliver on our 2005 promises on Africa.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to open the annual meeting, which lasts until January 28, by outlining her plans for the German presidency of the G8 group of industrialised nations and the European Union over the next six months. Merkel is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Davos on Thursday.

The European Union, which Merkel is heading over the next six months, is a key player in the Middle East peace “quartet” along with Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

Blair is due to close the meeting late next Saturday, just hours after about 30 key trade ministers, including officials from the EU, United States, Brazil and India, hold a meeting with World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy on the sidelines of the Forum in Davos.

Lamy has already urged the informal mini-ministerial to sketch out the way ahead in a crucial year for the deadlocked talks between 150 nations on expanding free trade in agriculture, industry and services.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora are among the 24 heads of government due in the Swiss Alps, as well as Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice prime minister Shimon Peres. Schwab said 20 countries asked the forum to arrange meetings with business chiefs on the pressing issue of global warming.

However, in keeping with the Forum’s primary role as an elite club that enables its paying corporate members to meet political decision-makers, most of that debate is expected to be private.

The Forum is expecting about 800 chief executives or directors in Davos.

Company bosses on the guest list include Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, Internet firm Google’s co-founders including Larry Page, the vice president of Russian energy giant Gazprom, Alexander Medvedev, as well as old favourites like Bill Gates.

They are due to be joined by British Chancellor (finance minister) and Blair’s likely successor, Gordon Brown, who called for a “new world order” last Friday, as well as his French counterpart Thierry Breton, and a host of energy and oil ministers.