Davos Diary: An evening in the life of WEF, from Brexit to biodiversity

Al Gore, former US Vice President and Climate Reality Project Chairman, naturalist Sir David Attenborough and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the WEF, in Davos. (Reuters)
Updated 25 January 2019

Davos Diary: An evening in the life of WEF, from Brexit to biodiversity

  • An absent Theresa May was the star of the show at WEF last year, before the Brexit debacle took such a serious turn
  • Sir David Attenborough was present to spread the word about climate change, which is one of the hot topics of Davos 2019

DAVOS: The Belvedere hotel was buzzing with rumor on the eve of the formal opening day of Davos 2019, and most of it centered on British Prime Minister Theresa May. Will she? Won’t she?
The UK leader has apparently withdrawn from this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting. She is one of a number of big-hitters who have decided their services are needed at home, in the face of populist “crises” ravaging the US and Europe.
In the Belvedere, the reason for May’s absence was apparent from the first step in the door. There, in the main lobby amid all the corporate branding for the banks and consulting firms that make the hotel their home base for the duration of Davos, flew the Union flag of the UK along with the slogan “Free Trade is GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Very in-your-face, but it was hard to work out exactly who had hung it there. Was it a Brexiteer, anxious to promote the idea that after withdrawal from the EU, the UK would be free to trade with the rest of the world? Or was it a member of the Remain camp, pushing the line that Britain within the EU would be free to trade with the 27 other member of the customs union?
There were other conspiracy theories being spun around. It was a greeting flag, it was said, to welcome May on what would be a surprise visit after all. British business leaders — marginally more anti- than pro-Brexit — are due to hold their annual Davos lunch event on Thursday.
Some recalled that May was the star of the show there last year, before the Brexit debacle took such a serious turn. Maybe she would want to reprise that triumph? Such is the hectic pace at which rumor spreads in Davos that I heard the same notion being put around later in the day as hard fact. We shall see, but if it happens, you read it here first.
After the excitement of the Belvedere, the agenda moved to the Hilton hotel, back within the ring of steel that surrounds the main WEF congress hall. That was the venue for the welcome bash thrown by the WEF media team, which is always a “must attend” event. Even more so this year because the guest speaker was the distinguished British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough. The nonagenarian TV supremo — maker and voiceover to the “Planet” series of nature programs on the BBC — was in Davos to spread the word about climate change, which is one of the hot topics of Davos 2019.
Adrian Monck, the WEF’s head of public and social engagement and a former broadcaster himself, introduced Sir David with the words: “It’s not often you get to hear from a TV legend, but I don’t want to get into my TV career now,” drawing a few laughs around the room.
Sir David’s message on climate change and biodiversity destruction was rather more serious. “There are people here in Davos with enormous power, some who have more power than national states.
I want to tell them that we know what the matter is and we know what we can do to fix it,” he said.
He hopes his new documentary series “Our Planet,” which will air on Netflix, will help change perceptions, especially among climate change deniers. Sir David resisted the chance to criticize President Donald Trump, maybe the denier-in-chief, but he did say: “It is easy to say the problem does not exist, so we need bold action and bravery.”

  • Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai

US calling European cars a threat is ‘frightening’: Germany

Updated 4 min 18 sec ago

US calling European cars a threat is ‘frightening’: Germany

  • ‘If these cars ... suddenly spell a threat to US national security, then that is frightening to us’

MUNICH, Germany: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday labelled as “frightening” tough US trade rhetoric planning to declare European car imports a national security threat.

“If these cars... suddenly spell a threat to US national security, then that is frightening to us,” she said.

Merkel pointed out that the biggest car plant of German luxury brand BMW was not in Bavaria but in South Carolina, from where it exports vehicles to China.

“All I can say is it would be good if we could resume proper talks with one another,” she said at the Munich Security Conference.

“Then we will find a solution.”

A US Commerce Department report has concluded that auto imports threaten national security, setting the stage for possible tariffs by the White House, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The investigation, ordered by President Donald Trump in May, is “positive” with respect to the central question of whether the imports “impair” US national security, said a European auto industry source.

“It’s going to say that auto imports are a threat to national security,” said an official with another auto company.

The report, which is expected to be delivered to the White House by a Sunday deadline, has been seen as a major risk for foreign automakers.

Trump has threatened to slap 25 percent duties on European autos, especially targeting Germany, which he says has harmed the American car industry.

After receiving the report, the US president will have 90 days to decide whether to move ahead with tariffs.

Trump in July reached a trade truce with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with the two pledging no new tariffs while the negotiations continued.

Brussels has already drawn up a list of €20 billion ($22.6 billion) in US exports for retaliatory tariffs should Washington press ahead, the commission’s Director-General for Trade Jean-Luc Demarty told the European Parliament last month.

The White House has used the national security argument — saying that undermining the American manufacturing base impairs military readiness, among other claims — to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, drawing instant retaliation from the EU, Canada, Mexico and China.

Trading partners have sometimes reacted with outrage at the suggestion their exports posed a threat to US national security.