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What does attendance at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos tell us?

22 January 2019

As business and political leaders gather in Davos this year, the notable absences tell us more about the state of the world's political landscape than those in attendance. Trump's wall proposal appears to be keeping him out of Davos much like the immigrants he is seeking to block. The US government remains in shut down with the rhetoric between Trump and senior Democrats in the house spiralling amid the latest Twitterstorm. The ongoing trade disputes against a backdrop of slower growth in China has kept President Xi away. President Macron is dealing with domestic anger as the effects of yellow jacket protests in France continue to ripple. While Prime Minister May might welcome a Swiss escape, she continues to meet MPs in an attempt to agree a way forward on Brexit. India's Prime Minister Modi is not attending the WEF and has an election to fight later this year. Amongst smaller countries, President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, who had been expected to attend in a bid to get more foreign investment, has cancelled his visit due to riots at home.  Chancellor Merkel is in attendance but has already announced that she will be stepping down.

The WEF turnout reflects troubles on the domestic front for many world leaders, as populist movements around the world continue to disrupt the political scene. It is not good for politicians to be seen "partying" with business leaders when they have significant domestic challenges to be dealing with. The WEF theme, "Globalisation 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution" at a time when large companies fear governments are attacking their global supply chains, highlights the divide between businesses and politicians. Populist movements around the world have, in general, been geared towards anti-globalisation and focused on protecting their domestic interests. Trump's trade policy and the move for Brexit are arguably effects of this turmoil. Politicians pandering to domestic populist agenda run the risk of damaging global economic growth. Business leaders, as they go home from Davos, will need to push politicians to resolve the disputes that threaten global economic prosperity.

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