The five-day annual talk-fest of WEF amid huge interest and high level of optimism about India, even as the mood about global economy remained largely pessimistic and concerns over terror attacks hogged the limelight.
The sudden death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz on Friday cast a pall of gloom over the last two days of the event, with many participants including government heads from that region pulling out of the summit early.
On the economic front, the surprise stimulus by European Central Bank on Thursday took many by surprise here at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, which leaders from across the world described as a much-needed breather for the struggling global economy.
India, however, emerged as one of the bright spots in an otherwise sluggish global economic outlook, while the country’s political and business leadership put up a strong show after a gap of two years.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the country’s growth story amid a new political scenario back home. Two chief ministers N Chandrababu Naidu and Devendra Fadnavis made strong pitches for their respective states — Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra — among global investors.
With packed schedules spread over three days, Jaitley met a number of new and potential investors, as also government representatives from different countries to discuss various opportunities for cooperation.
Jaitley also met his Swiss counterpart Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and discussed about cooperation in dealing with the menace of black money suspected to be stashed in Swiss banks, among other matters.
Naidu and Fadnavis too had packed schedules with number of bilateral meetings, while Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian and DIPP Secretary Amitabh Kant also impressed upon the participants about India’s growth potential.
A host of other issues ranging from climate change to gender parity to digital economy to slump in oil prices were also discussed at length during the five-day annual jamboree of rich and powerful.
Closing the summit on a personal note, World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim said: “I would want to work on a system for early detection of pandemics and natural disasters.”
This year’s WEF meet had the theme of ‘The New Global Context’.
The 45th WEF annual meeting, which began on January 20 with presentation of crystal awards, tonight ended with a symphony performance followed by a soiree ‘Let the Music Play’. The summit was attended by a record number of 2,800 participants.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley led the way for India at the WEF annual meet, showcasing the growth prospects of the country and seeking to attract more investments.
The economy is set to clock a 6.5 per cent growth next year and then take off to reach 8-9 per cent in the years to come on the back of huge public support for reforms initiated by the government, Jaitley told the gathering.
“There is a huge amount of popular support, particularly in the backdrop of slowdown in the last two years, that we must grow.
“There is fair amount of clarity about the roadmap which is required for that growth,” he said.
India’s economic growth fell to below five per cent during 2012-13 and 2013-4. During the current financial year, the country’s economy is expected to recover and clock a growth rate of 5.5 per cent.
The world is showing interest in India which had earlier fell off the global radar, he said, adding the government and policymakers were working to consolidate on these gains and sentiments.
Confident about foreign and domestic investors participating in a big way in the Indian growth story, Power Minister Piyush Goyal said India story is getting stronger and back to its high growth phase.
“There is a lot of excitement among investors here about the ambitious target that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Government of India have set to ensure 24×7 power for all households as also for the industry and the farmers,” Goyal said.
Helped by the government’s consistent steps to improve business environment and remove growth hurdles, ICICI Bank chief said investor sentiment towards India is seeing a sea change and would soon yield significant investment flows.
“Yes, there is a sea change in investor sentiment towards India. India has always had strong potential, and now the new leadership of the country has given investors the confidence that we will act to realise this potential,” she said.
Political leaders as well as policy makers and corporate honchos also pitched for structural reforms to ensure sustainable development of the economy while also taking into consideration the challenges posed by climate change.
World leaders, including French President Francois Hollande, appealed to the global community to come together in the fight against terrorism.
With oil prices touching “rock bottom” levels, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde said there is an opportunity to cut down USD 2 billion worth energy subsidies and that this amount can be utilised in equal measure for creating jobs and education.
The issue of gender parity came for intense discussion at the annual meet, with some participants saying that 2015 could be a landmark one to lay the foundations for achieving gender parity.
However, they cautioned that there is much work to be done, which would require leadership.
Calling for a shared response against extremism, French President Francois Hollande today asked corporate leaders to join the global fight against terror and also urged the international community to resolve existing conflicts.
Two weeks after attacks in Paris against magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket killed 17, Hollande said it was not only France that was attacked, “freedom itself was attacked”.
Against the backdrop of rising threat of extremism and wave of terror attacks in different parts of the world, US Secretary of State John Kerry at the WEF the fight against terrorism would ultimately be decided in classrooms and not in battlefields.
“We will not defeat our foes by vilifying potential partners or by suppressing the very freedoms that terrorists try to destroy… We can’t shy away from reality that terror networks are operating with near impunity in some parts of the world,” Kerry said.
He also mentioned Mumbai terror attacks, while listing out the numerous places where terror strikes have taken place since attack on World Trade Centre towers.
While pitching for “people-centric” policies, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that massive spending on infrastructure, cities and agriculture, are directed towards “low-carbon growth, we will be on our way to climate-resilient societies”.
The prospects for the digital economy were also discussed.
“There are many other stories and therefore I am optimistic. Technology is both creator and destroyer of jobs but I am a huge optimist,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said.
Even though nearly 120 people from India were registered for the annual meet, there were some notable absentees such as Mukesh Ambani and Rahul Bajaj.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cancelled his trip to Davos in the wake of fuel crisis back home.
Among those registered for the event, about 17 per cent women while the average age was 53 years for men and 48 years for women participants.