GENEVA — The ongoing shift in economic power from Europe and North America to emerging giants such as China and India, and high-level ministerial talks aimed at jump-starting the suspended Doha global trade talks, are expected to loom large at the annual World Economic Forum meeting that begins today in Davos.
WEF organizers also expect the assembled global business and political leaders to discuss the volatility in global energy and financial markets, climate change and the heightened threat of terrorism and instability in the Middle East.
About 24 heads of state, 85 cabinet ministers and leaders from 1,000 companies are expected to take part in the five-day meeting, which this year has the theme of “Shaping the Global Agenda, the Shifting Power Equation.”
“Our world is rapidly changing and power is shifting geopolitically,” said Klaus Schwab, WEF’s founder and executive chairman.
Senior executives from the world’s largest manufacturing and financial conglomerates are among the 2,400 participants from 90 countries, including 73 from the top Fortune 100 companies. Political leaders participating this year include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Several high-level meetings are also slated to take place on the sidelines with trade ministers from the world’s major trading powers, including the U.S., European Union, Brazil and India, in a bid to draft a blueprint to relaunch the Doha trade talks aimed at reducing tariff barriers among the 150 members of the World Trade Organization.
The injection of political support in Washington on Jan. 8 by President Bush and EU President José Manuel Barroso for negotiators to resolve differences and clinch a global deal has raised hopes the talks could be salvaged. The round, launched in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar, collapsed this summer due to major differences between rich and emerging countries over farm subsidies and tariffs.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will hold a series of closed-door meetings with their counterparts from the EU and other WTO players in a push to narrow differences. On Saturday, WTO director-general Pascal Lamy and 30 trade ministers will take stock of the negotiations to see if there is enough support to take steps to get the talks restarted. The breakthrough needed is over the vexing agriculture issue, WTO envoys said.
India and EU member-states with sensitive farm sectors such as France are considered major stumbling blocks that need to be overcome, trade diplomats noted. Many developing countries, including India, Brazil and Argentina, have linked movement in other areas of the talks — such as creating a formula for industrial tariffs, including textiles and apparel — to a breakthrough on agriculture.
Trade officials have said they want to get a deal in place by March so Bush can present it to Congress before his Trade Promotion Authority expires June 30. The authority gives Bush the power to fast-track trade bills through Congress by barring amendments.
Asked about the chances of TPA renewal, Rita Hayes, senior adviser on trade and legislation for the law firm Hogan & Hartson, who is also a former deputy USTR, said, “I think it will take a lot of hard work and the will to want to do it.”