The World Economic Forum's (WEF) four-day annual summit took place in Davos, Switzerland during 22- 25 January 2019 to address the major global issues and suggest solutions. Apparently keen to "improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of the society", the WEF has over the years emerged as the biggest global platform for public-private dialogue and collaboration supposedly for the greater good.
This year's official theme was: Globalisation 4.0: Shaping a New Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution -- a vision of an interconnected world that tackles the economic inequality along with globalised trade and production. The WEF intended to outline new models for building sustainable and inclusive societies in an increasingly pluralist world.
Roughly 3000 delegates including leading political leaders, NGO's, activists, investors, business chiefs, journalists and academics from more than 100 countries deliberated on how to work together for effectively meeting present-day challenges. There was widespread agreement that the formidable risks such as slowing down global economy, increasing inequality and environmental degradation, populism, and trade wars should be urgently addressed through politico-economic cooperation to take the world forward.
However, some of the main world leaders namely, the US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May were absent in this year's WEF summit as they were preoccupied with critical political crises at home. In order to have a clear understanding of the summit proceedings, it is pertinent here to mention the central points offered by some of the key speakers.
In his address the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres highlighted the current global risks and challenges. He pointed out that world's problems are "more and more integrated" but the response to them is increasingly "fragmented" and "dysfunctional". He appealed to the world governments and other stakeholders to adequately respond to public grievances and recommit global cooperation.
China's Vice President Wang Qishan in his speech strongly advocated for globalisation. He criticised President Donald Trump's economic policies and cautioned that the international order was under assault from 'unilateralism, protectionism and populism'.
Similarly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel championed a global world order in her address and urged all to stand against populist and nationalist movements. Her remarks are perceived as a criticism to the nationalistic approaches of a few European countries and President Donald Trump's signature "America First" policy. Many observers are disappointed that the US which historically championed global cooperation and multilateralism, is now retreating from it under Trump administration.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed Japan's commitment to enhancing a free, open and rules-based international order. He also called for rebuilding trust in global free trade.
The panellists at a WEF discussion contended that although geopolitics could not be dissociated from China's highly ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) costing US$1.5 trillion, this great venture will connect nations, create economic prospects, countless jobs and stimulate growth in many countries.
On the sidelines of the WEF's concluding session, as many as 76 countries including the United States, the European Union and Japan, decided to develop a plan for negotiations on setting new e-commerce rules and procedures -- a good outcome.
Most of the leaders at the WEF 2019 summit underscored multilateral approaches and cooperation to resolve global issues and common risks. Undeniably, global issues need global solutions. These cannot be resolved through simple pledges and 'dysfunctional' reactions by the state actors.
But then analysts have expressed their disillusionment as WEF Davos summit generated further hitches while trying to resolve them. Despite talks of risks from growing inequality, the business elites continue to amass wealth through machinations of the system, such as using tax havens to evade and avoid taxes. Around the world, thus, governments are under fiscal stress and cutting essential public services.
The resounding message of the WEF 2019 summit is that nation-states must continue to cooperate and work together, rather than following unilateralism and populism to solve the world's pressing problems. As the world faces a new period of slowing down global economy, rising inequality, and damaging trade wars, there is no substitute to global cooperation and liberal rules-based international order to deliver shared sustainable future.
Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science at the University of Dhaka.
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