India's PM Modi defends globalization

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday with a defense of globalization. Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to attend Davos in 20 years.

Posted: Jan 24, 2018 6:34 AM
Updated: Jan 24, 2018 6:34 AM

There are two really hot topics this year in Davos: The brutal weather and President Trump.

The government officials, chief executives, investors and central bankers who flock each year to the World Economic Forum have been forced to brave a winter storm that disrupted trains and snarled roads leading to Davos, the Swiss alpine town that hosts the conference.

Local authorities say the snowfall was "unprecedented," and the avalanche risk in nearby areas has risen to the top of a five-point scale.

"The road from Zurich was not cleaned at all," said Elena Kamenov, who has attended the conference for most of the past 15 years. "This never happens in Switzerland -- people are used to having snow here, I am not sure what happened."

With several feet of snow on the ground, and sidewalks only partially shoveled, organizers have resorted to handing out plastic spikes that bolt onto shoes. The accessories, which could prevent an embarrassing tumble in front of the global elite, have proven popular.

The snow had let up by the time the conference swung into action on Tuesday, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering a defense of globalism to a crowd that is well acquainted with its benefits.

Modi was given a marquee speaking spot, the same occupied last year by Chinese President Xi Jinping. But many attendees were already focused on the summit's grand finale: President Trump's speech on Friday.

The tension is palpable. What will Trump, who campaigned on the promise of putting America first, say to a conference that has long championed globalism and international cooperation? How will the crowd react?

Related: What happens at Davos?

Kamenov, who described herself as "not a Trump critic," said that attendees "should be more open minded."

"They should listen to both sides," she said. "I heard so many people complaining about [Trump's] style of doing politics. ... But maybe politics should change."

Kamenov is in the minority.

"He is not good enough, the way he treats people, this whole thing about the 's***hole' countries in Africa, that was not good," said Luvuyo Rani, co-founder of Silulo Technologies in South Africa.

Rani said he was worried that Trump would cast a shadow over the meeting.

"Everyone that is here says let's work more together ... and if he comes and says 'I don't care, I will do my own thing,' it will not be in the spirit of Davos, it will mean that Davos will not achieve what it wants to this year," Rani said.

Related: The Pacific trade deal Trump quit is back on

Greg Davis, chief financial officer at Ecobank, a pan-African banking group, said he will attend the speech on Friday, even though he is convinced he will not like what Trump has to say.

"I think his behaviors are not progressive for the world, and the arguments he brings to civil society are dangerous," he said.

Davis said his job has given him a firsthand look at the benefits of free trade and international cooperation.

"If we were to put up walls in Africa, we wouldn't have any chocolate in the world, we wouldn't have any mobile phones," he said.

Others are simply excited to see Trump.

Alex Zhao, the head of a Chinese health care startup called Chronic Care, said he wanted to see the American president for himself.

"I haven't seen him talking in real time ... so the speech might help to clarify some things for me," Zhao said.

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