Inequality, insecurity dominate Davos forum

Mohammad Amjad Hossain | Friday, 20 January 2017

Davos, at the foothill of the Alps of Switzerland renowned as ski resort, has been playing an important window known as the World Economic Forum (WEF) about global economy for the last 46 years. It was established by Economics Professor of Geneva University Klaus Schwab. It is a very expensive resort. Switzerland is composed of basically German, French and Italian-origin population. Therefore, three languages are in use in Switzerland. It is being participated by politicians and business elites as well to discuss prospect of global economic and political syndrome.
Theme of this year's World Economic Forum is 'Responsive and responsible leadership'.  The WEF founder has admitted the world has undergone significant changes. Civil wars in Syria and Yemen, bloody wars in South Sudan and Central African Republic, apart from unrest in Iraq and Libya because of terrorism by ISIS militant groups and influx of refugees from Syria, Africa and Afghanistan have caused economic problems.
The Forum drew particular importance this year in view of participation by President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping for the first time, apart from participation of Bangladesh which aims at reaching the middle-income level from LDC (Least Developed Country) stigma. Both the World Bank and the IMF have ranked Bangladesh to the 44th position in the world economy while its economy has been maintaining over six per cent growth for the last few years in view of structural reforms carried out in mid-80s and mid-90s and massive social mobilisation by BRAC and Grameen Bank, and labour-intensive export-based garment factories which led to broad macroeconomic stabilisation and low fiscal deficit.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is a major world leader who in fact has begun discussion on global economy by saying trade war against China would backfire while projecting free trade to increase global economy. He spoke on inclusive globalisation, fair trade and cooperation on climate change. His views were in fact with reference to the threat to China by Donald Trump, the new President of the USA. Exit of Great Britain from the European Union (EU) and Trump's threat to imposing tariffs on products from China and Mexico and suggestion to break up the European Union provoked discussions in the forum. During his meeting with the outgoing Vice-President of the United States Joe Biden in Davos, the Chinese President called for joint efforts by China and the US in building a long-term, stable and cooperative relationship to meet interests of both the countries and the world.
In an intensive discussion session in Davos, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her opinion that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) neither lost its effectiveness nor its activities. She was speaking  about regional forums which are designed to expand trade and connectivity in the region. She also touched on The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Sheikh Hasina said it is not an easy task to shift investment from one country to another in reply to a question relating to threat by the incoming President of the United States to withdraw American investments after the elections. A discussion session was participated by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and members of civil society from the SAARC countries.
Jinping was the attraction in the Davos World Economic Forum. He was the first dignitary to speak there. Leading Chinese economist Li Daokui, Professor of Economics at Tsinghua University in China, who has been participating in the WEF for the last few years, said the Chinese President urged the world leaders to reject protectionism and instead work together to guide and adopt economic globalisation. Li Daokui disagreed with Western economists' forecast that the US economy will make progress under Trump's presidency in the first half of 2017. Speaking in the forum, Donald Trump's advisor Anthony Scaramucci, who worked as CEO at Goldman Sachs and is co-founder of hedge fund Skybridge Capital, said global elites have to get out of their comfort zone and listen to people if they do not understand how Trump was elected or why Britain voted to leave the EU. He was of the opinion that Donald Trump is against protectionism in global trade.
Major concern of this year's WEF is that growth and productivity have slowed while many of the world citizens are facing rising levels of inequality and insecurity which are impediments to business. Inequality and insecurity have led to an erosion of the private sector growth to operate in the society. A deeply-held corporate concern is that the current economic model is unsustainable.
The writer is a retired diplomat from Bangladesh.
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