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Trump to turn salesman-in-chief as Davos closes

In Davos, Trump faces an audience of politicians, bankers and titans of industry who view him and his more nationalistic policies with concern bordering on contempt.

world Updated: Jan 26, 2018 14:25 IST
Agence France-Presse, Davos
Trump,Davos,Switzerland
US President Donald Trump after a meeting during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25, 2018. (Reuters)

President Donald Trump will take a turn as America’s salesman-in-chief Friday, trying to convince a sceptical band of the global great and good in Davos that he is good for business.

The 71-year-old firebrand is expected to pitch America as economically resurgent and the place to do business, during his keynote address at the close of the week-long World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps.

“If you’re not a cheerleader for your company or your country it’s not going to work,” Trump said, honing his message in a meeting with European chief executives late Thursday.

But after a tumultuous first year in office, Trump’s pitch will be as much about himself as about America.

In Davos he faces an audience of politicians, bankers and titans of industry who view him and his more nationalistic policies with concern bordering on contempt.

The day began with a rare apology from the US leader, for retweeting a British far-right group’s videos apparently showing Islamist violence.

“If you’re telling me they’re horrible racist people, I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that,” he told Good Morning Britain’s Piers Morgan during an interview conducted in Davos and broadcast on Friday.

Trump sparked outrage in Britain in November when he retweeted, in quick succession, three anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First who was in 2016 convicted of religiously aggravated harassment of a Muslim woman.

This year’s Woodstock of global capitalism in Davos has been dominated by handwringing about Trump-driven protectionism and turmoil in currency markets caused by his treasury secretary.

Trump is expected to claim that his business-friendly tax reforms and determination to tear up regulation have brought prosperity and a booming stock market.

His language in Davos so far suggests he is less likely to emphasise his “America First” agenda and threats to end deals that underpin global trade.

“I think the real message is we want great prosperity and we want great peace,” said Trump on the eve of his speech. “A lot of people are coming back to the United States. We are seeing tremendous investment.”

The former real estate mogul was on glad-handing form during a dinner Thursday with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, HSBC’s Mark Tucker and several other European bosses.

In opening remarks, each CEO was quick to stress the size of their US workforce, the many billions poured into America or to praise his tax cut.

Trump -- who made his name in politics by bashing elites, vowing to fight for the “forgotten people” and ignoring policy specifics -- laughed and doled out compliments about his guests’ entrepreneurial prowess.

Not everyone in Davos was pleased to see Trump there, however, as campaign groups displayed protest messages on nearby mountains.

When a smiling Trump arrived at the centre, one woman admirer grabbed his autograph but other delegates muttered -- out of his earshot -- about wanting to pelt him with fruit.

After one-on-one meetings with the leaders of Britain and Israel, Trump was due Friday to sit down with Rwandan President Paul Kagame before addressing the forum as a whole.

With Kagame, who currently chairs the African Union, Trump will likely try to turn a page on his derogatory comments about African countries.

Low expectations

Trump’s closing speech will cap a week that saw his administration announce a new package of trade tariffs targeting China and South Korea, and spark upheaval on the currency markets by appearing to countenance a weaker dollar, upending decades of international consensus.

But the president insisted in a CNBC interview that the dollar comments by his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, had been misquoted and stressed that he himself wants to see “a strong dollar”. That statement helped reverse a markets rout that saw the greenback hit a three-year low against the euro this week.

A weak dollar would potentially boost US exporters, fulfilling part of Trump’s America First mantra, but cause headaches for all other trading nations.

A year ago, the Davos spotlight was claimed by China’s communist leader Xi Jinping, who took up the torch of global trade to the delight of the well-heeled audience then anxious about Trump’s inauguration.

The Davos elite are keen now to see which version of Trump will speak Friday afternoon -- the business-friendly tycoon or the leader who berated the rest of the world at the UN General Assembly last September.

“I think they’ve already built down their expectations so far that anything he may say that’s conciliatory, they’ll be grateful for,” Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at Washington’s Center for a New American Security, told AFP at the forum.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel “stole the show” at Davos already, Kaplan added, after the European leaders used separate speeches on Wednesday to push back hard against the Trump manifesto.

First Published: Jan 26, 2018 14:25 IST