Braving heavy snowfall and a slew of delays, the world’s political movers and shakers again convened in the Swiss Alps’ town Davos for the start of the 48th Annual World Economic Forum.
Many of the nearly of the 3,000 attendees who arrived on Monday night struggled to reach the site of the Forum, as the main train line that carries visitors to the host ski high above Davos was buried in snow. Later attempts to helicopter the attendees were thwarted by poor visibility and inclement weather.
Several of the pre-summit meetings had to be cancelled or delayed as the first waves of delegates waded through snow-packed streets or had to wait for road crews to dig their limousines out of drifts.
Local officials said Monday evening that they had evacuated two dozen residents from vulnerable areas while crews used explosives to reduce dangerous build-ups on some slopes above the town.
Most European countries have sent their heads of state to the week-long gathering, and high-level delegations are expected from China, the US, Japan, India, and Russia.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and India’s PM Narendra Modi highlighted Tuesday’s opening session with keynote speeches on gender equality from Trudeau and a stark warning from Modi that globalisation is under threat.
Modi, the first Indian prime minister to attend Davos in over 20 years, struck a sombre note in his address, saying globalisation is beginning to lose it’s with the rise of populist politics and protectionism in many of the world’s key economies.
Speaking in Hindi, Modi took the opportunity to use the first address of the summit’s plenary session to address pressing issues that included climate change and terrorism, but also to offer a rebuke to countries whose economic policies are becoming more inward and isolationist.
“Forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalisation. They want to reverse its flow,” said Modi during his speech.
Echoing last year’s speech by China’s Xi Jinping, Modi committed India to being a defender of free trade and the global economy. In what many are seeing as a veiled swipe at Beijing, Modi compared India’s democracy – the largest in the world – with other regional players, saying New Delhi offered stability in unstable times.
Canada’s Trudeau used the crux of his speech to touch on one of the most pressing international issues of the last year – gender equality and sexual harassment.
“These movements (MeToo and Time’s Up) show us that we must have a critical discussion on women’s rights, equality and the power dynamics of gender. Sexual harassment in business and in government is a systemic problem and it is unacceptable…As leaders, we must recognise and act to truly show that time is up,” said Trudeau.
Referencing the highest profile women’s rights campaigns, Trudeau urged Davos’ business luminaries to take a firm stand to stamp out gender inequality by hiring and promoting more women.
In a reaffirmation of Trudeau’s statements, Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima spoke powerfully about the need to continue the fight against exploitation of women, saying the MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns “have helped bring new attention to a problem that is deep,” before adding, “It’s no accident that women are abused sexually at work or at home. It’s due to the social norms that are there to justify their economic exploitation.”
Trudeau also announced that the 10 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have concluded a new agreement to preserve their alliance after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement during his first months in office.
Trump is also expected to attend later in the week. His appearance at Davos – his first as president – remained up in the air due to the federal government shutdown that began late Friday night. With temporary measures in place to get US institutions back up and running, Trump’s scheduled address to the attendees looks to be back on the schedule.
His wife, First Lady Melania Trump, will not accompany her husband to Davos. According to Stephanie Grisham, the East Wing spokeswoman, Melania’s decision to miss the summit was due to “scheduling and logistical issues” that conflicted with her schedule.
In addition to Trudeau and Trump, a record number of leaders from G7 economies will participate in this year’s summit, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and – in first visit to Davos – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The message from Davos has been cautiously optimistic this year, but trust in global financial institutions has fallen to levels not seen since the beginning of the economic crisis nearly a decade ago.
Once a sleepy mountain village, Davos has become the go-to event for the world’s powerbrokers since the first World Economic Forum launched in 1971.