Politics

Trump the populist descends on globalist Davos

U.S. President Donald Trump is taking his America First agenda to the World Economic Forum while pro-trade countries such as Canada wait to see how he sells a protectionist agenda to a globalist crowd.

U.S. president not expected to meet with Canadian PM at economic forum

President Donald Trump intends to bring his America First agenda to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday morning for the World Economic Forum, vowing to talk up his protectionist 'America first' agenda to an international crowd largely in favour of a more globalized world.

That looming contrast of positions is why Trump's attendance here has been so highly anticipated. It's not just because he is the first sitting U.S. president to go to the forum since Bill Clinton in 2000.

The main theme at Davos is about how working together can solve the world's poverty, climate change and equality challenges, which is vastly incongruent with Trump's agenda.

Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., says that leaders like Trump like to crow about how well their economy is doing and give full credit to their nationalist plans — but fail to credit the deep ties that link countries together.

"All of the world's leaders, virtually, are celebrating the improvement and recovery in the global economy, but it's also giving space for the nationalists and populists to say, 'Hey this is because of our 'America first' or 'U.K. first' policies," said Dawson.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trump aren't expected to hold a one-on-one meeting in Davos. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

​"But it's been a lot of globalistic tendencies, economic integration, economic co-operation that has helped to produce this economic recovery."

That analysis hasn't swayed the Trump administration, but the president's team will still be well represented at the global economic summit, which will see more than 2,500 people take part. 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, just one of the heavy-hitters in Trump's cabinet slated to attend, arrived in Davos on Wednesday.

"It's going to be terrific. We have a great story to tell, couldn't be happier to be here. It's really all about economic growth, opportunities to invest, free and fair trade and we're looking forward to it."

Of course, there's been a great deal of speculation about how Trump will be received.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stands with Chairman on the National Economic Advisory Gary Cohn and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington, D.C. in December. They are part of the large U.S. delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

For Mnuchin's part, he doesn't appear worried.

"I think he's going to have lots of good interactions."

In addition to Mnuchin, there is Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Trade Representative Robert LIghthizer, National Security Advisor General HR McMaster and senior adviser and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

'America first is not America alone'

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn is also in Davos. At a White House press briefing on Tuesday, Cohn framed the president's America first agenda in a more global light.

"America first is not America alone," Cohn said. "When we grow, the world grows. When the world grows, we grow. We're part of it, and we're part of a world economy and the president believes that."

Business and political leaders converge on the Swiss city every year. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

He defended the administration's recent slapping of tariffs on washing machines and solar panels.

Cohn said he disagreed with critics who argue that the president is giving up the U.S.'s seat at the global trade table, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's announced a new Trans-Pacific partnership deal.

"We are very open to free, fair, reciprocal trade.  If you treat us one way, we will treat you the same way.  If you have no tariffs, we will have no tariffs.  If you have tariffs, we should have a reciprocal tariff.  It's hard to argue against that, that we should treat each other equally. That's our trade policy. That's our trade premise. The president is going to keep going on that."

No Trudeau-Trump meeting planned

Trudeau has no meeting planned with Trump while their time in Davos overlaps Thursday. Trudeau is set to depart in the evening, meaning he will miss Trump's closing speech on Friday.

Trudeau instead has more bilateral get-togethers with top business leaders in his bid to attract more investment to Canada. One government official pointed to Trudeau's meeting with Jacob Wallenburg, chairman of Investor AB, as significant for Canada and one the government hopes will yield results.

The prime minister is also part of a panel discussion with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai about the education and empowerment of girls. Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way to school in 2012.

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