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IMF's Lagarde echoes Biden's call for international cooperation in Davos speech

Outgoing U.S. vice-president Joe Biden called on the international community to defend the "liberal" world order against those who seek isolationism and to "build walls" — a veiled reference of the Trump administration that will succeed him in the White House in less than 48 hours.
Joe Biden denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech in Davos on Wednesday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Outgoing U.S. vice-president Joe Biden called on the international community to defend the "liberal" world order against those who seek isolationism and to "build walls" — a veiled reference of the Trump administration that will succeed him in the White House in less than 48 hours.

Speaking to an audience in Davos, Switzerland on the third official day of the World Economic Forum, the U.S. vice-president took aim at Russia in his final remarks as vice-president, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to disrupt a world order that has brought unprecedented peace to the developed world for several decades.

With many European nations set to elect new governments this year, Biden warned there will be "further attempts by Russia to meddle in the democratic process" and achieve its goals. Putin, Biden said, "seeks to return to a world where the strong imposes will through military might, corruption and criminality whilst weaker nations have to fall in line."

The only defense is greater collaboration among nations, not less, he said.

On the subject of trade, the outgoing vice-president did not mince words, saying that while he supports freer trade in principle, lawmakers must do a better job of ensuring that the benefits of trade are more evenly distributed to all citizens. "Globalisation has not been an unalloyed good," he said. "I am a free trader, I am a strong supporter of globalisation, but, it has deepened the rift between those racing ahead at the top and those struggling to hang on in the middle or falling to the bottom."

Speaking later, the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde echoed that view, saying that dealing with economic inequalities will be the best defense against growing extremist movements

Conceding that there is "no silver bullet response," Lagarde said on a panel at the World Economic Forum that it's time for "courageous" leaders to reconnect with the people.

She said that excessive inequality is "counterproductive" to sustainable growth, but that reversing globalization through more protectionism would be the wrong course. Redistributing wealth will be a central part of any strategy to deal with the inequalities, as will a deep analysis of how new technologies affect jobs.

"With ... more equality and much more transparency I think you have the [better] ingredients of what is identified now as the crisis of the middle class in the advanced economies," Lagarde said, urging world leaders to not "be resigned to taking the situation as it is."

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters