The World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting closed in Davos on Sunday with a call from Tony Blair for new “collaborative and innovative leadership” to address the big challenges of globalisation, conflict, climate change and water conservation. Blair, who co-chaired this year’s five-day meeting, addressed 2,500 global political and business leaders at the exclusive Swiss ski resort. He told the closing plenary session that globalisation is forcing politic leaders to adopt more collaborative approaches. “If we are interconnected and the world is interconnected, the only way for the world to work is to have a set of common values,” he said “We have no option but to work together.”
Blair also said he expects to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and a pact on climate change by the end of 2008. Sharing his optimism, Nobel Peace prize laureate Elie Wiesel demanded action on Darfur and Tibet. He made a call to "to alleviate the suffering in Darfur which has become the capital of human suffering in the world today." He also received a standing ovation when he said "I'd like China to open its doors to the Dalai Lama so I could accompany him to go to Tibet. That would be a great, great victory.” WEF founder Klaus Schwab warned that if the challenges are not addressed then “even the greatest opportunities will not be enough to guarantee our continuation as humankind if you look at climate change, terrorism, poverty."
The WEF was born in 1971 as a yearly “European Management Forum” of European corporate players initially funded by the European Commission. Klaus Schwab, Professor of business policy at the University of Geneva, chaired the gathering which took place in Davos. In 1987 the forum changed its name to the WEF in an effort to claim global reach. It now includes the most prominent transnational corporations, over a thousand of are WEF Foundation Members. Its members are mostly comprised of North American, European and industrialised Asian delegates.
The WEF aspires to be an agenda setting organisation. It is a private foundation that meets regularly but has no formal policy making power unlike similar groups such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Both however have supranational structures that Andrew Calabrese called representative of a “post sovereign era”. When the WEF Asia Pacific meeting met in Melbourne in 2000, it was the target of a major demonstration by S11 protesters concerned with issues relevant to the expansion of global capitalism such as its apparent lack of accountability, its environmental impact and international debt structures that hamper third world development. But while they captured media attention, neither the protesters nor the WEF succeeded in engaging in debate with each other’s views.
Australia was represented at this year’s talks by Trade Minister Simon Crean. He said the forum gave renewed impetus to the long-running Doha round to open up world trade. He told a news conference there were still big gaps among rich and poor countries, but ministers had agreed to finish the round as soon as possible with revised negotiating texts for agriculture and industrial goods. "It was a positive outcome from Davos" he said. “I'm encouraged by the response and the way that message has been conveyed back here and the momentum that that's hopefully generated.”
One of the themes to emerge from the 2008 conference was a quest to determine the values that underpin globalisation. The WEF has left behind its early market fundamentalism and is now charting a new course for global capitalism. This means enhanced “market discipline”, proactive crisis suppression and a recognition of the social cost of a rampant unchecked world economy. It is starting to reach out to parts of the world excluded from its social contract including Africa and Latin America as well as inviting NGOs to participate. According to Daniel Yergin, Chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), “globalisation is not going to go away.” The question, he said “is what kind of globalisation do we have.”