In an honor for India, Modi delivers inaugural address at WEF, Davos

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi mounted a defense of globalization at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018 urging joint action on climate change and economic cooperation, in a speech some delegates took as a swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump’s America First agenda.

The world is facing many new and serious challenges from the rise of anti-globalization to technological changes and the environment, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Davos while addressing the nearly 3,000 leaders attending the World Economic Forum.

Giving the opening plenary speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday, Modi laid out his vision for India and the world in a speech that touched upon technology, climate change, terrorism and trade agreements.

Modi said that there was a “worrying trend” against globalization and towards isolationism, trends that U.S. President Donald Trump has been accused of promoting in his first year of office.

“Forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalization, their intention is not only to avoid globalization themselves but they also want to reverse its natural flow,” he said.

“The result of all this is that we get to witness new types of tariff and non-tariff barriers. Bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and negotiations have come to a kind of standstill. Most nations have seen a decrease in cross-border financial investment further, growth in the global supply chain has also stopped.

“The solution to this worrying situation against globalization is not isolation. Its solution is in understanding and accepting change and in formulating agile and flexible policies in line with the changing times.”

In a speech that promoted Indian values and philosophy, Modi said that changes in society, and particularly technological change, presented the world with both opportunities and risks.

Modi is leading a big government and business delegation to the summit in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, aiming to showcase India as a fast-growing economic power and a potential driver of global growth.

His opening address was a moment of personal triumph for the nationalist leader once shunned by the West for failing to prevent communal rioting in his home state. The occasion also recognized India’s growth as an economic and geopolitical power.

Anindya Bakrie, chief executive of media company PT Bakrie Global Ventura, part of Indonesia’s Bakrie conglomerate, said Modi’s remarks were a welcome contrast to U.S. isolationism.

“For developing countries, when we hear the U.S. talking about isolationism it’s a bit concerning. So to have more and more leaders talk about the benefits of globalization is really good,” Bakrie said.

Arun Kumar, chairman and CEO of accounting firm KPMG in India, said: “He laid out where India stands in terms of his preference for a multi-polar and multicultural world.”

Under his America First agenda, Trump has threatened to withdraw from the North American free-trade agreement, disavowed the global climate change accord and criticized global institutions including the United Nations and NATO.

“Technology-driven transformation is deeply influencing the way we live, the way we work, behave and talk to each other and influencing international politics and economics,” Modi told an audience in Davos.

“This technology-driven world has influenced every aspect of our lives … Technology has the ability to bend, break and link and a very good example of these three aspects is the use of social media,” he said.

Modi said that data is a huge asset but that “the flow of global data is creating the biggest opportunities and the greatest challenges.”

The Forum’s theme in 2018 is “Creating a shared future in a fractured world” and the organizers hope that the 3,000 or so participants will come to shared solutions and actions to try to resolve the world’s most pressing problems and challenges, such as inequality, climate change and innovations in technology and labor markets.

Participants at Davos range from political and business leaders to public and private policymakers and the odd celebrity.

Responding to WEF’s theme this year, Modi said “in the world is full of fault-lines and rifts we need to build a shared future with the changes taking place and the new forces arising, the balance between economic capabilities and political power is changing at great speed.”

Modi was initially the headline guest at this week’s meeting although he has been somewhat upstaged by the news that President Donald Trump would also attend the event and is due to speak on Friday.

Yet the prime minister’s appearance comes at a time when global attention is given to India. The country’s economy is one of the world’s strongest although last October the World Bank lowered its forecasts for India’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth, predicting an expansion of 7 percent rather than a previously predicted 7.2 percent expansion.

The World Bank said the revision was due to disruptions caused by demonetization (aimed at rooting out black money) and the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) although it said the economy would recover, predicting it would grow at 7.4 percent by 2019-20.

Modi said that the last time an Indian prime minister had been to Davos was in 1997 when India’s GDP was little more than $400 billion, and now, it was almost six times that much. Modi said that India would have a $5 billion economy by 2025.

Still, the country of 1.34 billion people has deep social problems including income and gender inequality and high levels of pollution.

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