Gloomy forecast for Davos: crises aplenty, but few world leaders
* Crises to keep Trump, Macron, May away from Davos
* Somber mood expected at Jan 22-25 elite gathering
* Trade row, recession fears, global tensions dominate
(Adds Trump cancels U.S. delegation's trip)
By Silvia Aloisi
MILAN, Jan 17 (Reuters) - An array of crises will keep
several world leaders away from the annual World Economic Forum
in Davos next week, which takes place against a backdrop of
deepening gloom over the global economic and political outlook.
Anxieties over trade disputes, fractious international
relations, Brexit and a growth slowdown that some fear could tip
the world economy into recession are set to dominate the Jan.
22-25 Alpine meeting.
The WEF's own Global Risks Report set the tone this week
with a stark warning of looming economic headwinds, in part
because of geopolitical tensions among major powers.
Some 3,000 business, government and civil society figures
are due to gather in the snow-blanketed ski resort, but among
them are only three leaders of the Group of Seven most
industrialised countries: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Premier Giuseppe
Donald Trump, who stole the Davos limelight last year with a
rare appearance by a sitting U.S. president, pulled out of this
year's event as he grapples with a partial U.S. government
On Thursday, the White House said Trump had also canceled
his delegation's trip to Davos because of the shutdown, now in
its 27th day. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo had been expected to lead the U.S. team,
according to two senior administration officials.
French President Emmanuel Macron is also skipping the
meeting as he seeks to respond to the "yellow vest" protests,
while British Prime Minister Theresa May battles to find a
consensus on Brexit.
Outside the G7, the leaders of Russia and India are shunning
Davos, while China - whose president, Xi Jinping, was the first
Chinese leader to attend the elite gathering in 2017 to offer a
vigorous defence of free trade - is sending his deputy instead.
That will leave the likes of British Finance Minister Philip
Hammond, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and a host of
central bankers with the task of trying to reassure business
"Davos will be dominated by a high level of anxiety about
stock markets, a slowdown in growth and international politics,"
said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit.
"The leadership presence is lower than last year but those
who are going ... will be seeking to impart a sense of
confidence and calm business and investors' nerves."
Before the U.S. cancellation, a Trump administration
official had said the U.S. delegation would also discuss the
importance of reforming institutions such as the World Trade
Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World
Trump has harshly criticised globalisation and questioned
U.S. participation in multilateral institutions such as the WTO,
calling for a revamp of international trade rules.
Davos watchers said the absence of so many top leaders this
year did not mean the glitzy forum had lost its status as a
global stage for top politicians to present their agendas.
"Abe is going to Davos not just as Japanese prime minister
but also as chair of the G20. It will be a perfect opportunity
to lay the groundwork of upcoming G20 meetings," said a Japanese
government source familiar with international affairs.
"Of course there may be inconveniences such as missing
opportunities to hold bilateral meetings, but that won't
undermine the importance of Davos," he said.
A Chinese official who has attended Davos regularly but will
not go this year said China had never expected to make progress
at the meeting on the trade dispute with the United States.
"It's just an occasion for making a policy statement," he said.
The low turnout among major Western leaders may also give
more prominence to political personalities who may otherwise be
upstaged. Davos will be the first major international outing for
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, elected on a wave of
anti-establishment and conservative nationalism also seen
He said on Twitter he would present "a different Brazil,
free of ideological ties and widespread corruption".
For business chiefs, the value of Davos lies not so much in
the public sessions but in the networking and dealmaking
opportunities on the sidelines of the main conference.
"It's the best place to pitch for ideas, build connections
and get your brand known," said Chen Linchevski, chief executive
of Precognize, an Israel-based start-up developing software that
prevents technical or quality failures at manufacturing plants.
"It's the kind of place where in a few days you meet people
you wouldn't easily meet otherwise," said Linchevski, who is
paying 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,495) to attend the event.
($1 = 0.9902 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason
in Washington, Yawen Chan in Beijing, Kaori Kaneko, Tetsushi
Kajimoto and Linda Sieg in Tokyo, Tom Miles in Geneva, Dmitry
Zhdanikov in London and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by
William Maclean and Peter Cooney)
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