DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) -The global business and political elite have gathered in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos for their annual festival of schmooze and serious debate at the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Climate change, tensions in the Middle East and global energy security were all high on the agenda of the four-day, high-altitude huddle of top movers and shakers.
The guest list was as impressive as always, with participants able to flit from a breakfast with Microsoft founder Bill Gates to an evening audience with German Chancellor Andrea Merkel, via round-table talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
The theme of this year’s meeting — “The Shifting Power Equation” — takes in everything from the growing geopolitical clout of countries like India, China and Brazil, to the increasing influence of Web logs on the traditional media.
“Everywhere, in society and business, the power is moving from the center to the periphery,” said WEF founder Klaus Schwab Wednesday. “Vertical command-and-control structures are being eroded and replaced by communities and different platforms.”
The 2,400 registered participants at Davos included 800 corporate chief executives or chairmen, 24 heads of state or government and 85 cabinet ministers.
The theme of power transition was party reflected in the absence of big name US officials, while India sent a high-profile 100-member delegation led by Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.
Also on the list was the prime minister of Vietnam, the newest member of the World Trade Organisation, while the new faces of the corporate world were represented by the co-founders of Internet giant Google and the head of the Internet video site YouTube.
Another notable “shift” was the lack of celebrities.
With the exception of Davos regular Bono, famous names from the world of entertainment were scarce on the ground compared to previous years when the likes of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Sharon Stone stole the media spotlight from the corporate bigwigs and political leaders.
“This year we made the decision that, with the exception of one or two people, we were not inviting any Hollywood celebrities,” said Schwab, citing concerns that showbiz personalities would “hijack” the forum and blur the focus on the serious issues under debate.
Chancellor Merkel was to open the meeting later on Wednesday with a speech highlighting climate change, financial security, and the need to revive world trade talks.
“To release the positive forces of globalization, we must reduce global imbalances in public finances and world trade,” Merkel told the WEF website.
“This means following new paths, both in our cooperation with emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil and in enhanced dialogue with Africa on reform and sustainable development,” she said.
Meanwhile British Prime Minister Tony Blair, making what is almost sure to be his last appearance at Davos, was preparing to raise the issue of climate change and aid to Africa later in the Forum’s meeting, which is due to end on Sunday.
Blair is due to line up alongside pop icon Bono, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Bill Gates and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to press home a message about “delivering on the promise of Africa” on Friday.
About 30 trade ministers are due to take part in a meeting with WTO chief Pascal Lamy on the sidelines of the Forum the next day.
Lamy has urged them to try to sketch out a path ahead for deadlocked global trade talks, which are aimed at breaking down barriers to commerce in agriculture, industry and services largely to benefit developing nations.
The mood among company executives in Davos was decisively upbeat, partly due to forecasts of ongoing economic growth in 2007.
Ninety-two percent of 1,100 chief executives in 50 countries were confident about their company’s revenue growth in 2007, according to an annual survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers released on Wednesday.
Geopolitical challenges were also high on the agenda in Davos, with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni due to join discussions on Thursday.
Security was tight around the ski resort, although protests by anti-globalisation groups were expected to be minimal given the ease of controlling access to the isolated venue.