Davos forum to discuss oil, rise of China, India


Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 12

Over the coming week, a small corner of the Swiss Alps will become a businessman's playground as more than 1,000 executives buttonhole rivals and political leaders on global challenges and deals, in between runs down ski slopes for the fittest.

The annual, clubbish, meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) regularly draws a sizeable chunk of the world's corporate and political elite to the eastern Swiss resort of Davos.

After last year's foray into both poverty and climate change with Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder, Brazil's leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva or President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the organizers readily admit that this year's event has seen some political downsizing.

"Clearly one year on our minds are in a different place," said WEF managing director Ged Davis, announcing an economic bias to the five-day meeting starting on Wednesday.

This year's array of global concerns range from the growing weight of China and India, to fears of an oil and energy crisis or the strain on global water supplies.

Heads of state and government -- beyond German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- will be thin on the ground and the ministerial representation is dominated by finance and trade specialists.

About half the 2,340 participants expected in Davos are business chiefs -- just 15 percent of them women -- including the heads of three-quarters of the top 100 ranked companies.

"The World Economic Forum tries to keep away from issues that are too politicized," Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman said after being asked about the potential for talks on Iran.

"For me the key issue is the shift of the center of gravity from the West to the East, the rise of China and India not as a threat, but as an opportunity," he said.

Chinese Vice Premier and central economic planning chief Zeng Peiyan (曾培炎), and the governor of China's central bank, Zhou Xiao-chuan (周小川), who holds the key to the yuan's exchange rate, are due be accompanied by a showcase business delegation.

India's business community is also flocking to the Alps, along with commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath, who is due to take part in a trade meeting on the sidelines of the forum.

The WEF's mainly Western, US$20,000-a-year fee paying members highlighted the two Asian powers as areas of "immense" opportunity, but also signaled anxiety about low-cost competition, Davis said.

An internal survey found that energy-related topics came top of their list of concerns.

"What is on the top of the agenda this year is energy security. Second, climate-change regulation and its impact on markets, third, mid- to long-term supply uncertainties ... and fourth new forms of terrorism," energy specialist Christophe Frey said.

The "energy summit" events include a private session sounding out the response of industry chiefs, senior officials and analysts to a potential oil crisis.

The scenario involves simultaneous attacks on chokepoints in global energy supply -- thought to be ports, shipping routes, pipelines and refineries -- that "cause havoc on energy markets" and send prices above US$120 a barrel for weeks.