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Economic uncertainties, development dominate Davos economic forum

Global economic uncertainties and development issues have dominated the five-day World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting, with political and business leaders divided over the prospects for a slowdown in the US economy.

US economy
The Davos forum, which concluded Sunday, was clouded by mounting concerns over the US economic outlook in the aftermath of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Some economists even warned that the biggest economy is heading for a recession. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), predicted a serious slowdown in the US economy. “Whatever the answer is on a recession, what is clear is there will be a serious slowdown” in the United States, he told a panel discussion on the economic outlook this year. Calling for a serious response to the situation, Strauss-Kahn said the IMF is scheduled to update its economic forecast next week, and it is certain to have a lower growth figure for the United States. World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy said a US recession risk is obvious. “In fact there is for sure a problem in the credit system, and in the repricing of the financial system.” He also cautioned against the risk of trade protectionism in the United States. “Protectionist risks are higher if there was to be a recession.” However, the US government has a different view on the issue. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US economy will remain a leading engine for global economic growth despite concerns about a possible US recession. “The US economy is resilient, its structure is sound, and its long-term economic fundamentals are healthy,” Rice told a plenary. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda acknowledged Saturday that the risk of the global economy taking a downward turn is increasing against the backdrop of the sub-prime mortgage loan crisis in the United States and the surge of oil prices to record levels, among other issues. But he said there is no need to be too pessimistic and called for urgent coordination among countries. “There is no need to take an excessively pessimistic view of the current situation, but at the same time we do need to have a sense of urgency as we engage in coordinated actions while each country also implements necessary domestic response measures,” said Fukuda.

Development issues
Development-related issues, including the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), water crises, climate change, anti-terrorism, were high on the agenda in Davos. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a call Friday to make 2008 the year to act on the MDGs with new ideas and approaches. “This is the year to act (on MDGs). All of us together,” Ban told a session dedicated to the MDGs. Calling it a “sacred duty” for Africa to achieve MDGs, Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua said most African governments have been taking measures and implementing policies at various levels to achieve the goals. Yar’Adua outlined the serious challenges for Africa to meet the MDGs, drawing close attention to infrastructure and human capacities as two of the major challenges hindering efforts to achieve the MDGs. The MDGs, adopted at the UN General Assembly in September 2000,set specific human development targets by 2015 to tackle the issues of poverty, education, gender equality, health and environment. The Davos meeting also highlighted the urgency to tackle the global water shortage. Global crises from escalating demand for fresh water and inadequate supply are as urgent as efforts to tackle climate change as water stress poses a risk to economic growth, human rights, health, safety and national security, a panel attended by UN chief Ban said. “The challenge of securing safe and plentiful water for all is one of the most daunting challenges faced by the world today,” said Ban. The panelists agreed the challenge could be solved, especially through collaborative approaches from all sectors.

The issue of climate change has been a major topic through these years, and in Davos, it got a strong boost from Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda who put forward a “Cool Earth Promotion Program,” a follow-up initiative of last year’s “Cool earth 50” proposal which calls for a halving of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The “Cool Earth Promotion Program” will be implemented in three parts: the post-Kyoto framework, international environmental cooperation and innovation, said Fukuda Saturday. He said climate change will be “a top priority” of the G8 summit. “There is no time to lose in addressing climate change,” he said. He announced Japan would establish a mechanism utilizing $10 billion to cooperate actively with developing nations’ efforts to reduce emissions.

Peace and stability
Peace and stability are presently rare gifts for regions such as the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan. For Israel and the Palestinians, hopes for peace had been running high until last week when Israel blockaded the Gaza Strip to silence mortar attacks. Gazans have been plunged into a desperate plight and chaos due to fuel and food shortages. Leaders from the two sides, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Thursday reaffirmed their commitments to the Annapolis peace process launched at the end of last year. Peres said the next 10 months are crucial for the peace talks, adding that the hopes of a truce are “greater today.” Israel and the Palestinians hope to finalize the peace talks before the US presidential elections in November this year. “We cannot afford a failure, we need success,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf promised Thursday that his country will hold “free, fair, transparent and peaceful” parliamentary elections slated for Feb. 18, which will be held under the cloud of the recent assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf was in Europe to shore up support for the country’s parliamentary elections. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose country has been suffering from routine terror attacks by al-Qaida and Taliban remnants, Wednesday called for a “focused, determined, and sustained global partnership” in the fight against terrorism. “Clearly, no effort to break the vicious cycles of terrorism and violence can succeed without a focused, determined and sustained global partnership,” he told the opening ceremony of the forum.

The five-day WEF annual meeting began in this Swiss ski resort Wednesday under the principal theme of “the Power of Collaborative Innovation.” The event drew 2,500 of the world’s political and business elite, including 27 heads of state or government, and more than 110 government ministers.

Davos annual meeting concludes amid concerns over global economy
The five-day World Economic Forum annual meeting concluded Sunday amid great concern over the growth prospects for the global economy in the coming year and calls for more attention to development issues. This year’s Davos summit was overshadowed by mounting concerns over the US economic outlook in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage crisis, with some economists warning that the US economy is headed for a recession. (Xinhua)