Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A 'bumpy' Davos 2010 awaits world leaders

Davos valley from the air
For the 40th time, global leaders are meeting in this Swiss mountain valley

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website

If you want to take the temperature of the global economy and world politics, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is probably one of the better places to start.

Mingle with some 2,500 top bosses and politicians, and you get a good feeling of their current mood and attitude: exuberant or gloomy, swaggering or eating humble pie.

Three years ago, Davos was the very symbol of the bubble economy. Last year's forum was more akin to a death watch. Doom mongers roamed the wood and concrete halls of the Davos conference centre, and optimists were in short supply.

So what to expect from Davos 2010, the 40th event of its kind?

For starters, the interest in coming to Davos is unbroken. Most top companies will send their bosses to the Swiss Alps. More than 55 governments will be represented by top politicians. French President Nicolas Sarkozy will give the opening speech. Even the American bankers are back, a year after they were hiding behind their Wall Street desks.

Power shift

World Economic Forum logo in snow

Davos also illustrates the world's changing balance of power.

In 10 years, the seven largest emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey) will produce more than the economies of the G7 countries (United States, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, United Kingdom and Italy), according to analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

For proof, look at the Davos agenda. More and more of its sessions focus on issues affecting developing and rapidly industrialising economies. The number of business leaders from these countries coming to Davos is rising sharply this year.

On the conference panels, Westerners are yielding more and more space to representatives from countries like China, India and South Korea.

Even the media landscape is changing, with Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern broadcasters now trying to gain as much profile as CNN, CNBC and the BBC.

Bumpy economy, bumpy Davos

The official theme of this year's Davos is "Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild". It's a reform agenda, and there is plenty that needs reforming - from the financial services industry and government watchdogs to how we tackle global poverty and green issues.

Gao Xiqing, People's Republic of China (l), Montek S. Ahluwalia, India
India and China help set the Davos agenda

Will Davos come up with solutions? No, of course not. That's not what it's about. The forum is about generating ideas, and bringing together decision-makers - both in business and politics - so that they can talk without the need to posture in front of cameras (although Davos provides plenty of opportunities for that as well).

The main reason that this year's Davos will not yield immediate results, however, is that the forum will expose the fact that different parts of the world had very different experiences of the economic crisis - and will see an even more uneven recovery.

Hardest hit by the credit crunch were Western countries. Their economies suffered serious recession - hard, fast and prolonged. In contrast, many Asian countries suffered at worst a slight downturn, and in many cases a brief slowdown in their rate of growth.

Mark Foster, head of management consulting at Accenture, speaks of a "multi-speed world" where uneven economic recovery will result in a "world that is not flat, but extremely bumpy" - and that, he says, will affect the flow of capital, investment and growth.

Distractions

As always, discussions at Davos will be shaped from the outside as well as the inside.

Technology leaders will have one eye on San Francisco, wondering whether Apple's latest offering, its much-hyped tablet computer, really has the potential to revolutionise the media landscape.

Many UK participants will have an eye on the appearance of former Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Iraq inquiry on Friday.

And most politicians will be distracted by US President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Thursday morning Davos time.

Anyway, the president's proposals for a wholesale reform of the banking industry will be the biggest bone of contention during the Davos discussions. Already, bankers are baring their teeth to give it a good shake.

Davos man

And then there's the usual eclectic and wide range of the Davos agenda. Sessions range from "life on other planets - how will space research redefine life as we know it" and "healthy eating workshops" to "business solutions for rural poverty" and "rethinking risk in the boardroom".

It will be an unusual Davos. But then, with so many clever and (or) powerful people crammed into one tiny Swiss valley, Davos is never a normal event.



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