WEF meet ends; raises concerns over China, terror & refugees

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Davos | January 24, 2016 1:00 AM

The 5-day annual jamboree of the world's rich and powerful came to a close in this Alpine resort today, with leaders raising concerns about economic headwinds from China...

With regard to India, the leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) exuded confidence that its growth story would continue and the country would consolidate its position as the 'bright spot' of the world. (Reuters)With regard to India, the leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) exuded confidence that its growth story would continue and the country would consolidate its position as the ‘bright spot’ of the world. (Reuters)

The 5-day annual jamboree of the world’s rich and powerful came to a close in this Alpine resort today, with leaders raising concerns about economic headwinds from China, geo-political risks arising from the refugee crisis in Europe and terror attacks in various parts of the world.

With regard to India, the leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) exuded confidence that its growth story would continue and the country would consolidate its position as the ‘bright spot’ of the world. It will also become easier to do business in the world’s fastest growing economy, they felt.

However, one sore point for India was that a number of government and business leaders skipped this year’s meet, which ended tonight with a musical and visual performance by cellist and composer Zoe Keating.

Converging under the theme of ‘Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, the 46th edition of the WEF discussed a raft of issues, including those pertaining to economic uncertainties, geo-political worries, refugee problem and innovations ahead.

Among global leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the Davos meet a miss, while North Korean delegation could not come after their invitation was revoked by WEF in the wake of the nuclear test by the country.

From India, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley led from the front and spoke in three public sessions, besides his various other bilateral meetings and closed-door sessions.

RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan was on one official panel of a WEF session, while he is also believed to have had a number of meetings on the sidelines. India’s central bank chief also participated in a sideline expert panel discussion of University of Chicago where he remains an ‘on-leave’ professor.

Besides, Rajan was busy giving a number of TV interviews, including in the wake of the plunge in currency markets.

The Indian business leaders who were on official public sessions of WEF included Chanda Kochhar, Anand Mahindra, Sunil Mittal, Vishal Sikka, N Chandrasekaran, Ratul Puri, Srinath Sridharan, T K Kurien, Tulsi Tanti and Malvinder Mohan Singh.

A host of other business leaders were busy securing deals and in networking for future transactions, while a few of them largely remained in after-meeting party circuits every night — a key component of the Davos get together.

Those who could not make it to Davos this year included Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and DIPP Secretary Amitabh Kant.

Among business leaders, billionaire brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani did not attend.

At the end of the meeting, various leaders also suggested that CEOs have to turn away from short-term thinking and narrow concerns of shareholder gains and instead take bold steps to improve workers’ conditions, promote diversity and take a wider stakeholder perspective.

There was a consensus on this among business, labour and academic leaders in a session on the last day of the WEF meeting that focused this year on the challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the wave of rapid advances across technologies that are changing all aspects of life and work.

IMF Chief Christine Lagarde said the global economy would see a modest growth with a downside risk this year, while calling for a change in the way GDP is calculated in the wake of the emerge of various new sectors and business landscapes.

“We see global growth in 2016 as modest and uneven… There is modest optimism but significant risks,” she noted.

The downside risks to the global economy include the profound transition of the Chinese economy, lower-trending commodity prices as a result of oil prices and asynchronous monetary policies around the world.

Emphasising that the global economy is presenting a completely different picture that is changing, Lagarde said this is due to growth in India and China and a downturn in Russia and Brazil.

About Europe, she noted that if the refugee crisis is handled well and the integration process is conducted in a cohesive and organised way, it would be an upside for growth.

In the closing session of World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016, the panelist agreed that as the world surges into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a key challenge for individuals will be to understand and retain the very essence of new age interactive technologies, artificial intelligence and automation.

Henry T Greely, the Deane F and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law at Stanford University in the US, said: “All of us need to begin to understand and grapple with how we want to shape these technologies.”

“We are competing with artificial intelligence,” asserted Meeting Co-Chair Amira Yahyaoui, Founder and Chair of citizens action group Al Bawsala in Tunisia and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper community of leaders in their twenties.

“We really have to show we are the good ones. So the discussion of ethics and value has never been more essential than it is today.”

Justine Cassell, Associate Dean, Technology, Strategy and Impact, in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, countered: I don’t think of robots as competitors. I think of them as collaborators to help us do what we wish to do but can’t do alone and help us to be part of a larger community.

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