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Davos meeting to examine changing world

The World Economic Forum will get down to business on January 24 Keystone

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos next week will focus on what its organisers call the "shifting power equation".

Issues including climate change, energy and terrorism will take centre stage along with the Middle East, but talks will aim to set an international agenda rather than provide concrete solutions.

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, the forum’s founder Klaus Schwab said that figuring out where the world was headed was more necessary than ever.

“We are faced by a world which is increasingly schizophrenic,” he added. “Power, wealth and well-being are spread in ever more complex ways, leading to a world which is harder and harder to understand and which often seems alien to us.”

Around 2,400 leaders from the political and business world, as well as researchers and representatives of civil society are expected to attend, including heads of state and directors of major corporations.

While last year’s meeting made the headlines with appearances by movie stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Schwab said there was plenty to keep attendees busy, listing climate change, energy and geopolitics as top concerns.

Noting that a few rock stars are due to attend the event Schwab pointed out that the forum was focused more on participants from traditional power circles.

“We do not need such [show business] invitations,” he said. “This year it happens to be just Bono and Peter Gabriel, and I think it’s right.”

The Davos summit this year will also touch on topics such as international trade, nuclear weapons and challenges posed by demographic shifts in favour of cities worldwide.

Talks on global warming will serve, for example, to set an international agenda, said Ged Davis, one of the forum’s managing directors.

“The idea is to give the G8 [governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] an idea of what the business community wants in terms of rules and regulations for dealing with climate change ahead of their Tokyo summit next year,” he told swissinfo.

Talks without results

The Middle East is also expected to dominate the five-day meeting, which Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will attend as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and King Abdullah of Jordan.

But the organisers are not expecting any breakthroughs. Developments over the past few years have put paid to any real optimism.

“The best we can hope for is that the different parties use the occasion to understand their positions better and maybe build on that,” said Davis.

There are “major plenaries” scheduled to discuss Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Trade negotiators will also attend in droves. The United States, European Union, Japan, Brazil, India and others are sending top officials to try, on the sidelines, to revive stalled World Trade Organisation talks over a new tariff-lowering pact, which have been on ice for six months.

Religion, corporate branding, public health, the Internet, housing markets and macroeconomic prospects are also on the agenda, though organisers warned that few concrete agreements were expected to flow from the meeting.

swissinfo with agencies

Four Swiss cabinet ministers will be attending the Davos meeting.

Foreign minister and this year’s president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, will give the opening speech and spend time networking.

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard will meet informally with 30 ministers from World Trade Organization members to try and kick-start stalled negotiations.

Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz will meet with business representatives and hold talks with his German counterpart Peer Steinbrück and EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy.

Defence Minister Samuel Schmid will visit troops guaranteeing security around Davos, and meet the US Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff and the New Zealand defence and trade minister, Philip Goff.

Security will be tight as usual during the summit (January 24-28). The Swiss army is providing 5,000 soldiers and officers over a two-week period to back up the police, generating extra costs for the defence ministry worth SFr2 million ($1.6 million).

The air force will patrol the airspace above Davos, and flights over the town will be banned during the summit.

A number of areas where meetings are taking place will be closed off and only attendees will be able to access them as well as local residents.

Some roads will be shut off too, bus stops moved, and parking spaces eliminated. Davos will continue to operate as a winter resort, although identity checks and searches will take place at all access points.

Total security costs will be around SFr8 million.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR