DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) – Business and political leaders took to their helicopters and limousines in Davos on Sunday to head home after four days of talks on the global economy, the Middle East and climate change.
The 2007 World Economic Forum proved notable for its efforts to build bridges ahead of a new push to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and led to potentially crucial progress in global trade talks.
It was also a landmark year in terms of climate change awareness, which leapt up the agenda and was spoken about with concern by many of the corporate chiefs who stand accused of exacerbating the problem.
“I have to admit that Al Gore was the tipping point,” Klaus Kleinfeld, chief executive of German electronics group Siemens, admitted in one debate, referring to the 2006 film about global warming made by the former US presidential candidate.
Global trade talks got a lift on Saturday when leading ministers meeting on the sidelines of the event agreed on the principle of re-starting stalled World Trade Organisation talks.
The Doha round of WTO talks was suspended last July by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy after the European Union, the United States and developing countries became deadlock.
“My sense of the (trade) meeting was a positive one,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim afterwards. “I left with a higher feeling of optimism.”
The Doha round was launched by WTO members in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001 with the aim of reducing trade barriers for the benefit of poor countries.
In addition to several debates on Iraq and the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took centre stage on Thursday evening when Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas shared a stage with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Both sides expressed a desire for peace based on the idea of an independent Palestinian state, an expression of goodwill at a time when international action to solve the conflict is gathering momentum.
“We are ready, as of now, to start serious negotiations with our Israeli neighbours,” Abbas told the audience.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas in the next few weeks and she will also host a meeting of the Middle East peace quartet on Friday.
The quartet includes the United States, the European Union, Russia and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The gathering, set in the glitzy Davos ski resort in the Swiss Alps, this year featured appearances from the leaders of Brazil, Britain, Germany, Mexico, the Philippines and South Africa, who mingled with the leading names in business.
Above all, the event serves as a useful gauge of the preoccupations of policymakers and the world’s business elite, with the shift of economic and political influence to Asia giants India and China another dominant theme in 2007.
Development issues and poverty in Africa were addressed by pop star and campaigner Bono and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while Bill Gates revealed how his global immunisation programme GAVI had vaccinated 138 million children since 2000.
Bono was a rare exception as a celebrity in Davos this year after the organiser of the event, Klaus Schwab, decided to reduce the number of showbiz stars in attendance.
Hollywood A-listers had threatened to overshadow the event in recent history and outshine the corporate clientele who pay from 35,000 Swiss francs (22,000 euros, 28,000 dollars) to attend.
This year also saw a move to embrace the online community, featuring a discussion of Second Life, the computer-based virtual world, and an Internet site to aggregate blogs written about the event.
Davos was not all serious discussion however, with attendees invited to join seminars on topics such as “why do brains sleep?” and “a blueprint for human settlement of the solar system”.
Another seminar promised to examine the issue of self-esteem — hardly a scarce commodity in the rarefied world of Davos.