Global economic anxiety and the possibility of global recession are set to dominate next week's World Economic Forum in Davos. But US President Trump, whom many hold most responsible for the major problems, won't be there to answer questions.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum addresses a news conference ahead of the Davos annual meeting in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, January 15, 2019.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum addresses a news conference ahead of the Davos annual meeting in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, January 15, 2019. (Reuters)

Several world leaders, including the US president, are staying away from this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos next week from January 22-25.

Donald Trump – who was centre-stage at Davos last year in a rare appearance by a sitting US president – cited domestic problems such as his partial shutdown of the US government as his reason for avoiding this year's unofficial gathering of the powerful and wealthy.

His tariff attack on the global trade system would likely have been a question he faced at Davos. Those attending won't be able to ask him what further contributions he might make to deepening gloom over the global economic and political outlook.

China's President Xi Jinping is also not going, which leaves the forum without its champion of free trade. Xi's deputy Wang Qishan is expected to push China's agenda which Beijing says is based on dialogue not confrontation.

The White House also announced that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and state secretary Mike Pompeo would not be going “out of consideration for the 800,000 American workers not receiving pay.”

Others not going are French President Emmanuel Macron, who is grappling with 'yellow vest' protests, a populist response to his own brand of Francophile populism, and British PM Theresa May whose Brexit plans, a populist move to reimagine 'little England,' are in tatters. Russia's President Vladimir Putin is also not attending. 

Leaders currently still scheduled to attend include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte.

Before the US cancellation, a Trump administration official had said the US delegation would also discuss the importance of reforming institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Trump has harshly criticised globalisation and questioned US participation in multilateral institutions such as the WTO, calling for a revamp of international trade rules.

WEF issues stark warning for global economic outlook

The WEF's own Global Risks Report set the tone this week with a stark warning of looming economic headwinds, in part because of geopolitical tensions among major powers.

Some 3,000 business, government and civil society figures are due to gather in the snow-blanketed ski resort

"Davos will be dominated by a high level of anxiety about stock markets, a slowdown in growth and international politics," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit.

"The leadership presence is lower than last year but those who are going ... will be seeking to impart a sense of confidence and calm business and investors' nerves."

Davos was always more show and tell than substance, but now with political populism and isolationism on the rise globally, it will be up to the likes of British Finance Minister Philip Hammond, Chinese Vice President Wang and a host of central bankers who, in the absence of the politicians, will try to reassure business chiefs.

Less hot air and more actual discussion this year?

Davos watchers said the absence of so many top leaders this year did not mean the glitzy forum had lost its status as a global stage for top politicians to present their agendas.

"Abe is going to Davos not just as Japanese prime minister but also as chair of the G20. It will be a perfect opportunity to lay the groundwork of upcoming G20 meetings," said a Japanese government source familiar with international affairs.

"Of course there may be inconveniences such as missing opportunities to hold bilateral meetings, but that won't undermine the importance of Davos," he said.

A Chinese official who has attended Davos regularly but will not go this year said China had never expected to make progress at the meeting on the trade dispute with the United States. "It's just an occasion for making a policy statement," he said.

The absence of the US delegation and the low turnout among leaders of the bigger global powers may also give more prominence to political personalities who may otherwise be upstaged.

Source: TRT World