Davos and Houston are as different as chalk and cheese — or steak and fondue

Daniel Yergin (L to R), vice chairman of IHS Markit, Sara Ortwein, president of XTO Energy, Timothy Dove, president and CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, Mark Little, CEO of Suncor Energy and Lorenzo Simonelli, chairman and CEO of Baker Hughes, take part in a panel discussion at CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas, US. (Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Davos and Houston are as different as chalk and cheese — or steak and fondue

HOUSTON: The CERAWeek by IHS Markit event is sometimes called the “Oil Man’s Davos” and on the surface the resemblance is striking: At both big gatherings of the global elite, discussing weighty matters of policy and strategy by day, and letting their hair down at night, is a succession of receptions, dinners and after-parties.
But once you scratch just a bit below the surface, the similarities fade. The two events really are chalk and cheese. CERAWeek is slick, American, energy focused and very New World; Davos is chaotic, eccentric, eclectic and very European.
The geography is the telling factor, of course. The Swiss event is held 5,000 feet up on an Alpine mountain, constrained within the borders of a small town, and spills over from the Congress Hall to the frosty anarchy of the hotels, bars and cafes around.
Houston is the fourth largest city in the US, with a population of more than two million people, and is accessible by land, sea and air from George Bush International and other local airports. It is a real urban hub for west Texas, an American city given over to the motor car, with big open freeways linking the sprawling suburbs to the gleaming new downtown.
Every city block seems to have its own gigantic parking lot or multi-story parking block. The space given over just to parking would be enough for several hotels, chalet apartments and even a ski-run in Davos.
The other big difference is the central venue. Houston has one, Davos hasn’t. You can get through the week of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting without ever setting foot in the Congress Hall, following events on live stream from the Belvedere hotel with the other “Masters of the Universe.”
In the Bayou city, 99 percent of the action takes place on four floors of the Hilton Americas, a huge hotel and conference complex set in the midst of the sparking new downtown area. There are events around and about the Hilton — the Grove steakhouse on Lamar Street is known as a power dining hub — but you can easily spend the whole week just in the Hilton.
If you do venture outside, the other obvious difference between Houston and Davos hits you straight away: You can walk the streets of Houston in the comfort of a business suit and normal shoes, without having to don extreme weather gear every time you leave the indoors.
At this time of year, Houston is a pleasant climate, in the low 20s, with the occasional refreshing shower to keep you stimulated. The summer is hot, stuffy and humid, they tell me, and in autumn there is the ever-present risk of hurricanes like Harvey, the one that devastated Houston last year. But for CERAWeek, the weather is perfect.
The two events share another similarity, in that they are each the creation — largely — of one man. Klaus Schwab founded the WEF and led Davos through 48 years of WEF annual meetings, while Daniel Yergin has overseen CERAWeek through 37 years of gatherings.
Yergin, who won the Pullitzer Prize with his epic history of the oil industry “The Prize,” is ubiquitous at CERAWeek, running the event almost single-handedly, chairing and moderating events from dawn to dusk. Schwab only comes out of his Chairman’s Office for the really big ones, like — embarrassingly — Donald Trump at this year’s event. Where Schwab is oleaginous and deferential, Yergin is probing and incisive.
One final difference: Davos has fondue and skiing, Houston has steak and the rodeo, an annual celebration of Texan cowboy heritage that coincides with CERAWeek. An assessment of the latter will follow soon.


US unveils new veto threat against WTO rulings

Updated 23 June 2018
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US unveils new veto threat against WTO rulings

  • US tells WTO appeals rulings in trade disputes could be vetoed if they took longer than the allowed 90 days
  • Trump, who has railed against the WTO judges in the past, threatens to levy a 20 percent import tax on European Union cars

GENEVA: The United States ramped up its challenge to the global trading system on Friday, telling the World Trade Organization that appeals rulings in trade disputes could be vetoed if they took longer than the allowed 90 days.
The statement by US Ambassador Dennis Shea threatened to erode a key element of trade enforcement at the 23-year-old WTO: binding dispute settlement, which is widely seen as a major bulwark against protectionism.
It came as US President Donald Trump, who has railed against the WTO judges in the past, threatened to levy a 20 percent import tax on European Union cars, the latest in an unprecedented campaign of threats and tariffs to punish US trading partners.
Shea told the WTO’s dispute settlement body that rulings by the WTO’s Appellate Body, effectively the supreme court of world trade, were invalid if they took too long. Rulings would no longer be governed by “reverse consensus,” whereby they are blocked only if all WTO members oppose them.
“The consequence of the Appellate Body choosing to breach (WTO dispute) rules and issue a report after the 90-day deadline would be that this report no longer qualifies as an Appellate Body report for purposes of the exceptional negative consensus adoption procedure,” Shea said, according to a copy of his remarks provided to Reuters.
An official who attended the meeting said other WTO members agreed that the Appellate Body should stick to the rules, but none supported Shea’s view that late rulings could be vetoed, and many expressed concern about his remarks.
Rulings are routinely late because, the WTO says, disputes are abundant and complex. Things have slowed further because Trump is blocking new judicial appointments, increasing the remaining judges’ already bulging workload.
At Friday’s meeting the United States maintained its opposition to the appointment of judges, effectively signalling a veto of one judge hoping for reappointment to the seven-seat bench in September.
Without him, the Appellate Body will only have three judges, the minimum required for every dispute, putting the system at severe risk of breakdown if any of the three judges cannot work on a case for legal or other reasons.
“Left unaddressed, these challenges can cripple, paralyze, or even extinguish the system,” chief judge Ujal Singh Bhatia said.
Sixty-six WTO member states are backing a petition that asks the United States to allow appointments to go ahead. On Friday, US ally Japan endorsed the petition for the first time, meaning that all the major users of the dispute system were united in opposition to Trump.