What’s happening? This week 3,000 people, including 70 heads of state, have gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, hampered by several feet of snow that fell as they arrived. On Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump will join them, the first American leader to attend in 18 years. His message, according to White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, is that “America is open for business.”
Why does it matter? Always a polarizing figure, Trump could reach new heights at Davos, where globalization and anti-protectionism are watchwords. The U.S. president’s move earlier this week to slap tariffs on solar technology and washing machines, which could soon be followed by charges on steel and aluminum, have some of the leaders and luminaries at Davos skeptical of his cooperation.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world … Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping used Davos as an opportunity to promote globalism — and position his country as the new center of world power. This year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first Indian head of state to speak at Davos in more than 20 years, staked out his own spot on the global scene, touting globalization and promising to double India’s economy to $5 trillion by 2025.
But is America still first? As Trump and his cabinet arrived in Davos yesterday, Cohn assured a group of reporters that “America First is not America alone.” That may mean Trump thinks he can use Davos’ icy environs to begin carving out new, more favorable economic relationships with other global economic powers. Trump will be facing leaders who know that if they can talk to him one-on-one, they have a pretty good chance of swaying his stance.
Can world leaders forgive and forget? While U.S. business leaders and trade-friendly conservatives cross their fingers and hope that friendships will be cultivated at Davos, they’ll also be praying that Trump’s Twitter-finger doesn’t blow things apart — and that Trump’s meeting with the head of the African Union will go smoothly even after his alleged comment about “sh*thole countries.” Meanwhile, Russian officials have accused the U.S. delegation of “hiding” from discussion while at Davos.
It’s not all about Trump: As the U.S. draws inward, other nations will want to make their own deals with each other. America’s closest ally, Canada, recently did that by saying it would join 10 other nations meeting in Chile in March to revive the wounded TPP. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s still trying to convince President Trump that the North American Free Trade Agreement is worth saving.