Donald Trump arrived at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos on Thursday, the first serving U.S. president to attend since Bill Clinton in 2000.
Analysts say many delegates are braced for a clash of competing visions for the global economy.
Trump is expected to push his agenda of “America First,” which has seen the United States put tariffs on some imports and demand the restructuring of global trade deals. Other global powers, including Europe, China and Japan, are urging a renewed commitment to global free trade.
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Organizers hope the summit will help reconcile the rival visions.
“We strongly believe in dialogue and I think the fact that the president of the U.S. is here also opens up for a discussion about more equitable globalization,” said Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum.
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But it is Trump’s attitude toward globalization, and by extension free trade, that is generating a tangible tension ahead of his speech that will close the summit Friday.
The president signed an order Tuesday imposing steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, repeating his assertion that the current trade system is bad for America.
“These executive actions uphold the principle of fair trade and demonstrate to the world that the United States will not be taken advantage of anymore,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Modi sets the stage
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the opening address to the forum. His message contrasted sharply with what will likely be Trump’s.
“Forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalization. Their intention is not only to avoid globalization themselves but also want to reverse its natural flow,” Modi told delegates Tuesday.
His sentiments were shared by many other leaders at Davos, including America’s European allies and big economies like China and Japan.
So how will Trump’s “America First” agenda be received?
“It’s almost setting the agenda for a confrontation of some form,” said Inderjeet Parmar, professor of international politics at City University London.
“So, I think there’s going to be some anxiety, because there is a sort of changing character of the international system, or at least changing character of America’s engagement with it. And that’s having a knock-on effect on other states, which are beginning increasingly to see that it’s going to be a bit more competitive in the international order,” Parmar said.
On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump warned against the “false song of globalism.” Trump is to arrive in the spiritual heart of that globalism Thursday, with a message many fellow guests may not want to hear.