This article is part of our special report Davos 2018 debates ‘shared future in a fractured world’.
US President Donald Trump told a room packed with corporate and political leaders in Davos on Friday (24 January) he was there to deliver a simple message: America is open for business and we are competitive once again.
India’s Narendra Modi opened this year’s World Economic Forum, launching a charm offensive to lure investors to his country, Trump ended the meeting in the Alpine resort with an equally down-to-business speech.
“There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States,” he said, stressing that growth is back and his government had enacted the necessary reforms such as cutting the corporate tax from 35 to 21% to boost the country’s attractiveness to foreign investors.
“America is the place to do business – so come to America where you can innovate, create and build,” he added.
Arriving in Davos on Thursday evening, the US president convened a dinner with 15 major European CEOs to urge them to invest in the US. On Friday, he related the meeting, saying the business titans were ready to pour money into the country.
Trying to balance his sales pitch with a more leader-like discourse he said: “As president of the United States, I will always put America First. Just like the leaders of other countries should put their countries first. But America First does not mean America alone.”
Crazy vs Boring
Timothy Snyder, an American historian and Yale University professor, told EURACTIV after the speech that there are two Trumps. “There is the crazy Trump and there is the boring Trump. This was the boring Trump,” he said.
Snyder explained that the speech contained the basics of America First, which means “the US wants all trading partners to play by our rules but then you don’t say what those rules are.”
The US president made the case for free and open trade, but “it needs to be fair and reciprocal.”
“The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices, including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive state-led economic planning,” he slammed, blasting “predatory behaviours” that distort global markets and harming businesses and workers around the world.
In a veiled criticism that seemed aimed at China, the US leader said he would enforce trade laws and restore integrity to the trading system.
TTIP and TPP
He ostentatiously avoided talking about two major multilateral trade deals negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The Trump administration is also working on changing the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) agreement, which covers the US, Mexico and Canada, and is threatening to tear it up if not satisfied.
“The United States is prepared to negotiate mutually beneficial bilateral trade agreements with all countries. This includes the countries in TPP 11, which are very important. We have agreements with several of them already. We would consider negotiating with the rest, either individually, or perhaps as a group, if it is in all of our interests,” he said, opening up to the idea of multilateral agreements, to which he was totally opposed up to now.
That was the only sentence of the speech which was maybe positive, said Snyder, who confessed he was glad Trump came to Davos to get in contact with the outside world.
NATO and the EU
Trump reminded his Europeans allies once again that the US will no longer subsidise NATO.
“To make the world safer from rogue regimes, terrorism, and revisionist powers, we are asking our friends and allies to invest in their own defences and to meet their financial obligations. Our common security requires everyone to contribute their fair share,” he underlined.
Without reserve, he attacked the US immigration system as “stuck in the past.”
“We must replace our current system of extended-family chain migration with a merit-based system of admissions that selects new arrivals based on their ability to contribute to our economy, to support themselves financially, and to strengthen our country,” he said.
— Jorge Valero (@europressos) January 26, 2018
The crazy Trump resurfaced when he attacked the press, which prompted boos from the crowd.
“Where he is comfortable is praising other businessmen providing that he is number one. The one clearly authoritarian thing was attacking the press. He himself lies all the time and then he says the press lies,” Snyder told EURACTIV.