Davos 2018: Donald Trump criticised for protectionism even before arriving to deliver America First speech

India's Narendra Modi urged the world not to turn its back on globalisation

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Tuesday 23 January 2018 18:42
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Indian PM Narendra Modi highlights 'worrying' trend against globalisation

Donald Trump is preparing to deliver a major speech during his first visit to the World Economic Forum (WEF), but has come in for intense criticism over his “America First” protectionism even before he has arrived in Davos.

The US President’s participation at the event had been in doubt while the federal government was in shutdown. Having signed stop-gap funding legislation, he is now due to join members of his cabinet at the event in Switzerland, where he is expected to speak on Friday.

According to White House officials, Mr Trump will tell the gathering in Switzerland that “America is open for business” and that the President “wants the world to invest in America and create jobs for hard-working Americans”.

Underscoring the populist vision that helped carry him to the White House, Mr Trump on Monday approved tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines in a bid to help US manufacturers.

India’s Narendra Modi said ‘forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalisation’

While some manufacturers praised Mr Trump’s actions – ahead of the President leaving for Davos on Wednesday – he was criticised by China, Mexico and the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents installation companies, and which said the tariffs would lead to the loss of billions of dollars and could cost 23,000 US jobs.

On Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the Davos event’s opening address to talk against a new wave of protectionism, saying that trade barriers posed a danger to the world that was equal to climate change and extremist attacks. He did not mention Mr Trump by name.

“Forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalisation,” Mr Modi said, according to Reuters. “It feels like the opposite of globalisation is happening.”

The leader of a nation that for decades maintained a tightly controlled economy and which still has many regulations in place, added: “The negative impact of this kind of mindset cannot be considered less dangerous than climate change or terrorism.”

Mr Modi – whose accent Mr Trump sometimes imitates, according to a new report – urged governments not to turn towards isolationism. He quoted Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, by saying: “I don’t want the windows of my house to be closed from all directions. I want the winds of cultures of all countries to enter my house with aplomb and go out also.”

The speech by Mr Modi, the first Indian prime minister to deliver the event’s opening address, followed that of Chinese President Xi Jinping last year. Mr Xi portrayed his country as a champion of free trade on the same week Mr Trump was inaugurated president.

Mr Xi also urged international leaders to stick with the Paris accord on climate change, something Mr Trump subsequently declined to do, pulling out the US and putting it in a club of just two nations, with the only other country to reject the agreement being Syria.

Chuck Schumer slams Donald Trump for letting government go into shutdown

As for Mr Trump’s message, White House Economic Adviser Gary Cohn said that Mr Trump was looking to attract investment in the US, as well as holding a small dinner for European business executives on Thursday night ahead of his speech.

White House national security adviser HR McMaster added:“The President will use his travel to the World Economic Forum to reiterate his commitment to mutually beneficial partnerships and ... to fair and reciprocal international economic systems.”

Mr Trump is also set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and other world leaders. As well as investment in the US, Mr Trump will talk with leaders about cooperation on national security issues including the fight against Isis and North Korea’s nuclear activities.

Desmond Lachman, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute and a former senior official with the International Monetary Fund, told The Independent both the location of Mr Trump’s visit and its timing was slightly strange. Yet he said while Mr Trump would likely claim the US has been taken advantage of for too long, he would also take the opportunity to try and take credit for America’s booming stock market.

“He likes a big stage,” he said. “This gives him a great opportunity to be rather defiant and stir up his base.”

Anthony Kim, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he believed the week would see “constructive engagement” from Mr Trump, even if his world view was different to many of those present. “It’s far better than him not attending,” he said.

The Associated Press said attendees at Davos differed on how they saw Mr Trump’s presence at the event.

“I find it quite sad he’s coming to the WEF, but I imagine nothing can be done about it,” said Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, a longtime disciple of the Dalai Lama.

While the President’s visit may seem out of step, he was reportedly persuaded to attend by French President Emanuel Macron and his own Vice President, Mike Pence.

Reports suggest Mr Trump will talk a lot about US business. “I think it’s really good that he’s going,” said Bill Thomas, chairman of business services KPMG International. “The American economy is dependent on global engagement, and I think he’s in Davos because he knows that.”

WEF founder Klaus Schwab said on Monday: “It’s good to have the President here, if the snow conditions and the situation in Washington allow us.”

Mr Trump’s presence has already triggered protests in Swiss cities. About 20 demonstrators broke through security to reach the Davos Congress Centre, holding banners and shouting “Wipe out WEF” before they were peacefully disbanded by police, but there were larger demonstrations elsewhere on Tuesday.

Police estimated that there were 2,000 demonstrators in Zurich. They carried flags and anti-globalist and environmentalist placards such as “No Trump, no coal, no gas, no fossil fuels” as they marched towards the city’s financial district. Several hundred protesters also marched in public squares in Geneva, Lausanne and Fribourg. Geneva signs read “World Economic Fiasco” and “racist sexist capitalist”.

Swiss police are deploying more than 4,300 troops around Davos for security, which officials say compares to that on previous years.

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