By Max Ehrenfreund /
DAVOS, Switzerland — Amid growing doubts about the future of free trade and international economic cooperation, proponents of globalization found reasons for optimism as the World Economic Forum opened Tuesday.
The specters of President-elect Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric and the British exit from the European Union loomed over the annual event that attracts world leaders and dignitaries to this mountain resort town to discuss the state of the global economy.
But despite a populist push against globalism in the West, Secretary of State John Kerry told attendees that the “70-year-journey” of expanding economic integration that began after World War II was not over.
“I know some people who are looking at the world and saying, ‘Oh my god, you know, the world is coming apart,’ and this and that,” Kerry said. “No, it isn’t, folks, and it won’t.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping also offered encouragement, delivering a forceful critique of the protectionism endorsed by Trump and other Western populists.
“It is true that economic globalization has created new problems, but this is no justification to write off economic globalization altogether,” Xi said, speaking through a translator. “We must remain committed to developing free trade and investment.”
China was one of Trump’s chief antagonists on the stump, and many at the World Economic Forum expressed fear that his administration will begin a new era of global barriers to commercial exchange. Trump, who will be inaugurated on Friday, has threatened tariffs of as much as 45 percent on goods imported from China, arguing that the nation’s interests must come first in U.S. foreign policy.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Xi offered an opposing viewpoint. Countries, he said, “should view their own interests in their broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.”
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi said to applause.
Later Tuesday, Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, clarified the terms of her country’s exit from the European Union, saying Britain plans a comprehensive break with the bloc including leaving the single market and global trade pacts negotiated by Brussels. Investors sold off the pound sterling on the expectation that barriers to trade between the United Kingdom and continental Europe would reduce demand for the currency. The pound fell to $1.21, its lowest price in decades.
For observers in Washington, Xi’s appearance in Davos suggested a claim to the kind of international economic stewardship that Trump has rejected.
“If we look back five years from now, 10 years from now, you could say this was a turning point, at which China did move up in the direction of asserting the kind of global leadership role that the U.S. has had for about a century and might willfully be abdicating,” said Fred Bergsten, the former director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an interview before Xi’s speech.
German economist Klaus Schwab, founder of the exclusive economic forum that meets in Davos every winter, made a similar point in introducing Xi.
The world expects China to provide “confidence and stability,” Schwab said.
“Particularly today in a world marked by great uncertainty and volatility, the international community is looking to China,” he said. Read more…