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     Jan 26, 2007
Elite ponder threats to globalization
By D Ravi Kanth

DAVOS, Switzerland - The high-profile Davos meeting of the international political, business, economic and academic elite began on Wednesday on the somber note that globalization is facing major threats due to worsening climate change, growing income disparities, escalating barriers to the movement of people, and global political and economic instability.

"We are living in a schizophrenic world," Klaus Schwab, founder and chief executive of the World Economic Forum, said at a press

conference, arguing that "there are so many underlying imbalances, fragilities, and inconsistencies" that need to be addressed on a war footing if the world is to be made a safe place.
He said there are 23 risks that are posing a major challenge to globalization, especially climate change and the stalemate in global trade negotiations. The situation in the Middle East is another major problem that needs to be addressed on a firm footing, he suggested, indicating that Davos is the best platform that can set the stage for arriving at appropriate answers on these global risks.

The central theme of this year's meeting is "shifting power equations", which aims to grapple with ongoing changes in the world.

The Davos meeting, which is strongly identified with the super-rich, who have made huge gains from globalization since 1991, has attracted almost 2,400 participants this year. The list of participants reads like an international who's who in global business and politics.

It includes 24 heads of government, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Lula da Silva of Brazil and South African President Thabo Mbeki. Top chief executive officers of the Fortune 500 companies and an assorted mix of academics, social activists and religious representatives have turned up to discuss the burning issues of the day - but from the perspective of the established order.

Some 223 sessions will discuss a range of issues. The list sounds like a "dog's dinner", said one media analyst, arguing that she is somewhat baffled by the range of issues that are discussed, and the conclusions reached year after year.

Climate change tops the list of issues at this year's meeting, with Schwab calling for concerted action at various levels, but there is no consensus among the world's corporate bosses on how to address this issue.

The consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers released a study on Tuesday indicating that 31% of chief executives are "not at all concerned" about global warming and climate change, while 28% are "not very concerned". The study suggested that only 14% are "extremely concerned" about climate change, while 26% are "somewhat concerned".

If this is what companies think about climate change, it is not clear what impact the Davos meeting can make on this issue, said an Asian business representative, arguing that the focus on climate change is constantly shifting to emerging economies, particularly China and India.

India's top telecommunications magnate, Sunil Bharti Mittal, said his country is ready to engage in the debate on climate change and even willing to consider some commitments, provided there is uninterrupted access to nuclear fuel and state-of-the-art technologies that can drastically reduce carbon emissions.

With US President George W Bush having finally spoken on "global climate change" in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, analysts in Davos believe that Washington will no longer be part of the problem on this burning issue. Any post-Kyoto Protocol agreement is now expected to see active US engagement.

Aside from climate change, rising income disparities, both in rich and in poor countries, were at center stage on the first day during various sessions on the threats to globalization.

"We are witnessing threats to globalization, escalating fears about increasing dislocation, and a return to a degree of protectionism," warned Coca-Cola chief E Neville Isdell. He is worried that the train of globalization is being removed from the rails because of these threats.

Ernesto Zedillo, director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, said at one session that the threat for globalization is coming not from China and India, which have become global centers for manufacturing and services respectively, but from the very powerful industrialized countries that are closing their doors to the movement of people and access to technology.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, who is launching a joint venture with Wal-Mart in India, expressed concern that rich countries have closed their doors to international migration and the short-term movement of skilled personnel. He argued that the world, especially countries in North America and Europe, have to adapt to India's people of "global talent", suggesting that skilled personnel in India must be allowed short-term movement given the shortage of such workers in the rich countries.

If there is no access to easy movement of skilled personnel from India, the Indian government must not open its market to farm products from the West, Mittal suggested.

(Inter Press Service)

Globalization in retreat (Jan 5, '07)



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