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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 12:09 GMT
A new spirit at Davos?
Davos protestors
Protests outside, discussion inside
By BBC News Online's Orla Ryan in Davos

Police and soldiers may still patrol the streets of Davos, but many of the delegates at the World Economic Forum have returned to run their multinational businesses and governments across the world.

Tuesday is the last day of the conference in the Swiss ski resort and while there are still some sessions left to attend, the mood is relaxed as the conference winds down.


The evidence points to exclusion rather than integration, deprivation rather than benefit

President Benjamin William Mkapa of Tanzania

For the organisers, their bid to ensure that the streets remained safe has indeed been a success, but in publicity terms it now appears to have backfired, sparking a row about the tactics employed by the Swiss authorities.

For many of those attending, the conference was a chance to exchange business cards and initiate deals which may only become public in the months ahead.

But for developing countries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Forum represented a chance to have their voices heard.

Inclusiveness

Much is made of the "Spirit of Davos" - a sense of inclusive, constructive and open debate - and Claude Smadja of the World Economic Forum said that feedback received from delegates indicated that the debate this year had been strong.

Indeed, buzzwords such as globalisation, digital divide and inclusion scattered debates across the six or seven meeting rooms.

But the forum opened with calls from leaders of governments from developing countries to make globalisation more inclusive.

"The evidence points to exclusion rather than integration, deprivation rather than benefit," President Benjamin William Mkapa of Tanzania said.

He questioned whether the developed world was sincere in its desire to share globalisation's dividends.

India's Minister of Finance Yashwant Sinha said: "The time has come when the north (developed world) must realise that there are strengths in the south (developing world).

"The south is not looking for charity. We are looking for equal opportunities."

African leaders sought to present a programme which should help woo aid and foreign direct investment.

Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo said the programme should be seen as a "plan by Africa for the people of Africa".

The fact that they chose to present it at Davos shows the need to win approval from the world's business and political leaders.

Reaction or anticipation of these pleas was in some cases positive.

Indeed, when Japan's Yoshiro Mori talked about his domestic economy, he stressed his country's willingness to remain the top overseas donor and its commitment to helping African countries.

Protesters

One way or another, inclusion appeared to be a key theme of the conference.

Many sessions were devoted to the theme in various forms.

These included business and political fears of the destructive effects of the digital divide or world trade talks.

UN secretary general Kofi Annan added his view that globalisation would only work if it brough benefits for everyone.

The presence of protesters on the streets of Davos, and then later in Zurich, appeared to highlight the sense of alienation more and more people feel from the debate carried on inside the heavily protected conference centre.

NGOs (charities and human rights and environmental pressure groups) were angry at the way they claim the peaceful protesters were treated.

Now they want the WEF to work with the Swiss authorities to ensure some form of peaceful protest can take place.

Some have pointed out that the violence that flared in Zurich on Saturday night was a direct result of the attempt to stifle peaceful protest in Davos.

At a press conference in Davos on Monday night, it became clear that some NGOs felt the organisers had paid lip service to the idea of inclusion by inviting them inside, while those who shared the same view on the outside were prey to heavy-handed police tactics.

Economic slowdown

The debate that will influence lives inside and outside the conference centre globally is that centring on the slowdown in the US economy.

Every country and business leader had a line about how well placed they were to survive.

The IMF's Stanley Fischer helped make the fears real when he said the international lender planned to cut its forecast of world growth for the year ahead.

Japan's Yoshiro Mori tried to pitch his country's economy not only as on the mend, but also as an engine which could drive the world's economic forward, as the US economy slowed.

Variations of this line was also spun by several European leaders, a view that many present were more prepared to accept than the Japanese view.

With the European economy expected to grow by 2.5% this year, this now appears to be slightly higher growth rate than expected in the US.

Net the future

The internet could prove to be the driver of this growth and one of the net's most high profile businessmen, Microsoft's Bill Gates, sought to chart the internet's future.

He sounded a positive note for sales of personal computers, thought by many to be in decline, pointing out that growth would pick up when the next wave of applications was released.

But broadband needs to be cheap and popular if the wireless vision for the future is to become reality, he said.

The vision of a cheap and popular internet is still a universe way from the experience of the millions of people who have never even made a phone call, as the UN's Kofi Annan pointed out.

As delegates rush to pack their bags and catch flights, many will find they are carrying home very different visions of the future.

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See also:

26 Jan 01 | Business
Debating globalisation
29 Jan 01 | Business
Internet insults traded globally
23 Jan 01 | Business
Bridging the digital divide
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