davos has potential to be more than just hot air
Last Updated : GMT 07:25:12
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today
Last Updated : GMT 07:25:12
Arab Today, arab today

Davos has potential to be more than just hot air

Arab Today, arab today

davos has potential to be more than just hot air

Frank Kane

Travelers from the Arabian Gulf to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 47th annual meeting — which kicks off tomorrow in Davos, Switzerland — will experience a temperature swing of roughly 40 degrees Celsius, from the balmy 20-plus of a Gulf winter to the chill minus 19 forecast for the Alpine town.
Will it prove to be a refreshing blast of mind-stimulating air on the crucial policy issues the region faces? Or a descent into hypothermic befuddlement in the face of such pressing challenges?
By the time Donald Trump stands on the steps of the Capitol uttering the words “I do solemnly swear….” most of the serious business will be over at Davos. The plenaries will have been held, the bilateral talks closed, the handshakes made or avoided. By then we will have some idea whether Davos has advanced its cause of “improving the state of the world,” or proved to be an inconsequential talking shop. Hot air in a cold climate, as somebody once jibed.
Mideast a crucial part of agenda
The concerns of the Middle East will probably play second string to the admittedly bigger concerns of the world: Trump, Brexit, China (President Xi Jinping is paying the first-ever visit by a leader of the People’s Republic), climate change and the WEF’s very own cause — the Fourth Industrial Revolution — will probably get more airtime.
But in many ways this is a crucial Davos meeting for the Middle East, and therefore the world. The region has the power to destabilize the international order in a number of ways, from its role as the main supplier of energy to its regrettable position as the locus of many of the most intractable geopolitical problems. It must make sure its voice is heard.
It must be said that Davos has in the past devoted a lot of time to the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian deadlock is a regular item on its agenda. But the stream of well-meaning intentions and resolutions that emerge usually flounder once they get to the hotter environment of Gaza. There is nothing — sadly — to suggest this year will be any different.
A platform for dialogue
The rolling Syrian crisis has usurped Palestine’s traditional place as the Davos cause célèbre for the past five years and it will undoubtedly feature prominently. Again, there seems little the WEF can do, in the face of great-power machismo, other than issue sincere but platitudinous declarations.
The criticism is often leveled at the WEF that it achieves nothing of any practical use, but that is to miss the point. It is not a substitute for the UN, or the foreign ministries of the world powers.
Its power is to provide a platform for dialogue, where ideas can be exchanged in a neutral environment, influencing the global intellectual climate in a positive way.
The participants from the Gulf region have a real need of such persuasion at the moment. The two biggest delegations are from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and each wants to use its presence there in subtly different ways.
For Saudi Arabia, the priority is the national transformation strategy set in train by the fall in oil prices and this is reflected in the composition of its delegation, dominated by policymakers from the Kingdom’s energy sector, its finance officials and its monetary authorities.
Two years on from the accession of King Salman and the new direction promoted by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the team at the WEF has the opportunity to connect with global thought leaders and the international banking community, on how to advance the program.
Global energy markets are always a big theme at Davos, and you can expect a string of prognostications about where the oil price is heading, as well as some forward thinking about future energy trends. At least the outlook is better for the region than it was last year, when oil sank below $30 a barrel just as the annual meeting got underway.
The UAE, of course, is also concerned about the oil price as the single most important element of its economy, but its comparatively advanced stage of diversification gives it the opportunity to look at other future trends.
When the WEF held its first meetings of the Global Future Councils in Dubai last year, the UAE signed up as a permanent home for programs and policies related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and you can expect the Emirati contingent to be involved in further deliberations in Davos on what the WEF calls the “4IR.”
Finally, to gainsay the argument that nothing concrete ever comes out of Davos, the annual meeting will also debate a new policy document on accelerating economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa.
Produced by the WEF’s own regional team with input from some leading business people in the region, the paper suggests very specific ways to hasten economic progress within the context of an extended partnership between the public and private sectors.
These are “actionable policy recommendations covering top priority reform areas,” and deserve a warm welcome — no matter how cold it is in Davos.

 

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davos has potential to be more than just hot air davos has potential to be more than just hot air

 



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