Business

Abe calls for rebuilding of trust in international trade at World Economic Forum meeting in Davos

by Sayuri Daimon

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the stage at the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, where he stressed Japan’s commitment to enhancing a free, open and rules-based international order.

Flying in from Moscow and appearing in front of the audience in Davos for the first time in five years, Abe spoke about his trade policy and touted some of the growth strategies he has initiated since taking office for the second time in 2012, such as efforts toward the implementation of womenomics, requests to companies to increase wages and the passing of a bill that paves the way for the invitation of some 340,000 foreign workers.

During the annual meeting, which kicked off Tuesday, Abe noted that the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership finally took effect on Dec. 30, and that the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will also enter into force on Feb. 1.

“The entire world should benefit from the economies of scale and efficiencies these two mega-deals will bring about,” he told the crowd, which was gathered in the biggest hall of the Davos conference center.

“I call on you, ladies and gentlemen, to rebuild trust toward the system for international trade,” he said. “That should be a system that is fair, transparent, and effective in protecting IPR (intellectual property rights) and also in such areas as e-commerce and government procurement.”

Abe’s call for free trade resonates with growing concerns over recent trade disputes between the U.S. and China, Brexit and rising populist sentiment across the globe. Such concerns are shared by many participants gathered in Davos.

This year’s annual meeting, which has attracted more than 3,000 leaders from the areas of politics, business and academia, as well as nongovernmental organizations, took place in the absence of many major political figures who were busy trying to solve issues at home.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, continues to face the difficult challenge of Brexit due to a divided Parliament. And as the U.S. suffers from its longest government shutdown in history, U.S. President Donald Trump not only canceled his own trip to the snow-capped Swiss resort town, but also that of all of his Cabinet members, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Abe, who is hosting this year’s Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June, did not miss the opportunity to promote the gathering to the global elites present, saying that he will lead the discussion on a range of issues such as climate change, as well as digital data governance using the World Trade Organization framework.

He stressed the importance of ensuring the free flow of medical, industrial, traffic and other useful data while protecting personal and other security-related information.

“The engine for growth, if you think about it, is fueled no longer by gasoline, but more and more by digital data,” he said.

“We will be inviting to Japan (the) topmost experts in science and technology from G20 member countries to combine forces in accelerating innovation,” he said.

The main theme of this year’s Davos conference, which will continue through Friday, is “Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” and focuses on new technologies, the changing roles of humans and the impact of these developments.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko and transport minister Keiichi Ishii were among the Japanese ministers who attended the annual conference.

Though many U.S. delegates were absent, Pompeo gave a speech via video Tuesday, the first day of the Davos conference. He defended the Trump administration’s brand of disruptive politics, pointing out U.S. economic strengths and foreign policy successes. He also touched on North Korea, saying there is some progress in talks with the reclusive country.

“There are many steps yet along the way towards achieving the denuclearization that was laid out in Singapore,” he said, but “we are determined to work toward achieving that.”

Newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also came to Davos and delivered a speech on Tuesday, saying he will implement a series of reforms, such as lowering taxes and improving social safety nets.