Davos forum to be held in person May 22-26

The Davos summit will be held in person for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, from May 22-26, the World Economic Forum announced Friday.

Davos forum to be held in person May 22-26
Founder and Executive chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab and WEF president Borge Brende listen India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking remotely during the World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos Agenda virtual sessions at the WEF's headquarters in Cologny near Geneva on January 17, 2022. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The annual gathering of the world’s political, economic and business elite traditionally takes place in January against the idyllic snowy backdrop of the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

But the forum has not been held since January 2020, despite repeated postponements and even a proposed one-off shift to Singapore.

“After all the virtual meetings taking place in the last two years, leaders from politics, business and civil society have to convene finally in person again,” WEF founder Klaus Schwab said in a statement.

“We need to establish the atmosphere of trust that is truly needed to accelerate collaborative action and to address the multiple challenges we face.”

The gathering, under the theme of “Working Together, Restoring Trust”, will offer leaders a chance to take stock of the state of the world and shape policies for the crucial period ahead, the WEF said.

“Topics on the agenda will include the pandemic recovery, tackling climate change, building a better future for work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism, and harnessing the technologies of the fourth Industrial Revolution,” it said.

The WEF has been holding an online series of round-table events this week at which world and business leaders shared their views on the global economic outlook.

The Geneva-based organisation said it would be in close communication with the Swiss government on the Covid-19 situation in the wealthy Alpine nation.

“The meeting will take place as long as all necessary conditions are in place to guarantee the health and safety of its participants and the host community,” it said.

Switzerland, population 8.6 million, is battling a fifth wave of the pandemic, registering nearly 38,000 new cases on Wednesday — a rate higher than in the surrounding European Union.

The January 2020 edition of the WEF summit, hosted just as the world was beginning to become aware of the new coronavirus spreading in China, drew more than 50 heads of state and government to the village of Davos.

US president Donald Trump and Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg were among its top speakers.

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Davos 2019: UK trade chief sells great new world after Brexit

Britain's pro-Brexit trade chief Liam Fox came to Davos Wednesday to sell a vision of "GREAT" free trade even if many in the UK parliament are aghast at where the country is going.

Davos 2019: UK trade chief sells great new world after Brexit
UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox in Davos on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Interviewed by the AFP news agency at the World Economic Forum, the international trade secretary said Britain remains a world-leading destination for foreign investment despite Brexit clouds and the departure of a number of companies.

Read also: Everything you need to know about Davos 2019

He welcomed a proposal by Poland that could potentially unblock a problem surrounding the Irish border that is holding up a deal on Britain's exit from the European Union.

Many of Fox's parliamentary colleagues, including in his own Conservative Party, have stressed they will do all they can to avoid a “hard” Brexit in March.

But given the risk of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal, Fox said he expected soon to sign several pacts with trading partners outside Europe to try to ensure a seamless transition.

The UK government is engaging in a bit of poster diplomacy in Davos. Photo: AFP

He shrugged off news that Sony has joined the drift of companies, especially from Japan, that are shifting the registration of their European headquarters, if not operations, out of Britain.

Instead he pointed to figures from the consultancy Deloitte showing Britain has attracted more foreign investment than Germany and France combined since it voted to quit the EU in 2016.

“So clearly the UK is open for business and is an attractive destination for foreign direct investment — and that during the time where there's been uncertainty over Brexit,” he said. 

Read also: Switzerland ramps up preparations for no-deal Brexit

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz broke ranks with the rest of the EU this week by suggesting a time-limit of five years might be possible on the so-called Irish backstop as a way to “unblock negotiations” between London and Brussels.

Fox commented: “I welcome constructive thinking on this. The prime minister (Theresa May) has made it very clear that we will welcome any option that might enable us to deal with the backstop issue. 

“We want to reach an agreement so that we can get the withdrawal agreement through parliament to give us a timely exit of the European Union, so that we can start to talk about our future relationship, rather than simply our exit.”

Poster diplomacy

In case of no deal, Fox has won agreements with Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Switzerland to ensure mutual recognition of standards in goods trade, providing a bridge to new trading regimes for Britain outside the EU.

He has admitted that he will fall short of his previous boasts that some 40 such pacts would be ready the day after Brexit.

Read also: $10,000 hotel rooms: the staggering numbers that tell the story of Davos

“There are a number that we expect to be signing over the next month or so,” he told AFP, declining to say how many.

During his two days in Davos, Fox is meeting with trade ministers from South Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, Colombia and Israel. 

He is also overseeing a striking visual campaign in Davos to underline Britain's historic record on trade, playing on a long-running tourism campaign that emphasises the “Great” in Great Britain.

A giant poster erected on the front of the swanky Belvedere Hotel by the British government declares in all capitals: “FREE TRADE IS GREAT.”

Fox conceded that some trading partners do not see the point of negotiating stop-gap arrangements, as they are unconvinced that Britain will fail to reach a deal with the EU.

“My view to them is, don't take the chance, because it (no deal) could happen. It's maybe unlikely, but businesses will never criticise you for being over-prepared.

“So our message to our trading partners is put the work in and if it turns out you didn't need to have it, that's fine, but you don't want to be caught napping.”

If it does fail to clinch agreement with the EU, Britain would revert to basic rules set by the World Trade Organisation to manage its export and import of goods.

While that is the preferred fallback option of Brexiteers such as Fox, some WTO members in Geneva have reportedly balked at simply translating Britain's EU commitments into a new document, arguing it would give London advantageous terms.

Fox said such objections were a “red herring” as the EU itself had never traded under certified WTO commitments, known as schedules.

“We are very clear, having set our schedules out, that the UK intends to be a very open economy and we intend to use our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation to push for greater liberalisation,” he said.