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Economy, Haiti to Take Center Stage at World Economic Forum

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Lisa Schlein

More than 2,500 business, government and civil society leaders from more than 90 countries are expected to attend this year's World Economic Forum in the small Swiss alpine resort of Davos.  Organizers of the meeting, which opens January 27, say the global economic crisis and the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti will top the agenda. 

The usual glamour and glitter that traditionally has been part of the annual World Economic Forum will be missing this year.  Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Bono will not be coming to Davos.  Although the director of the blockbuster movie Avatar, James Cameron, will put in an appearance.

These are sober times.  The world is preoccupied by the economic crisis, by issues such as terrorism, climate change and natural disasters.  These concerns are reflected by the guest list of prominent business, government and civic leaders and in its weighty agenda.

Founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, says the world has fundamentally changed.  He says there is a real danger of the world moving from the financial and economic crises of the past two years into a social crisis in 2010.

"As a consequence of the debt situation of governments, of the fiscal situation of governments, we will have certainly squeezed public and private households and we will have increased unemployment figures," he said.  "So, Davos will be the place to take really stock of where we stand in the aftermath of the crisis and to make sure that we continue to undertake the necessary reforms." 

Top U.S. economic advisers and members of the U.S. Congress will be among those actively participating in these discussions.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, will deliver the opening address.  He will be one of more than 30 heads of state or government who will attend the meeting.  Others include the Presidents of Tanzania, South Africa, Mexico, Canada, and South Korea.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is the special United Nations representative for Haiti will, together with the Forum, launch a major initiative to engage business in the reconstruction of Haiti.

The Forum's managing director and chief business officer, Robert Greenhill, says the Forum wants the business community to make a sustained, long-term commitment to help Haiti by providing investment and other development schemes so Haiti can grow and move out of poverty.

"That is not a short-term element," he noted.  "We do not expect to have a flash appeal with short-term responses.  That will be the relief program, which is important.  This is a sustained engagement, which the Forum will be doing with the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations to actually engage the business community, well after the television cameras have gone.  And, in fact, what we want to do is to build on the stability and the base, to build on the opportunities that were in Haiti before the earthquake and remain there afterwards." 

The Davos Forum also plans to deal with the aftermath of the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. 

The chair of next year's UN climate change conference, Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, will participate in key strategy discussions aimed at formulating new ideas to move the issue of climate change forward.

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