President Donald Trump will take a turn as America’s salesman-in-chief Friday, urging investment from the global business elite in Davos, while also warning foreign governments that they must play fair in trade or else.
“America is open for business,” the 71-year-old is expected to say in a keynote address at the close of the week-long World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps, according to a senior administration official.
Trump has reconciled the Davos-bashing that characterised his unorthodox march to the White House with the need to sell America to the world, and the speech gives him the opportunity to try to shift the dial away from the latest eruption of unfavourable headlines back home.
The president awoke to a bombshell New York Times story that he had ordered the firing of Russia investigation special prosecutor Robert Mueller last year, but had to back off when the White House counsel threatened to resign.
“Fake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories,” Trump told reporters as he arrived at the forum.
The president did use a British television interview recorded in Davos to strike a rare note of contrition on another controversy.
After last year retweeting a British far-right group’s videos apparently showing Islamist violence, Trump said in the interview broadcast Friday: “If you’re telling me they’re horrible racist people, I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that.”
The charge that Trump is racist earned new traction this month with his reported slur against what he called “shithole” countries in Africa.
Before his speech in Davos, he held talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who currently chairs the African Union. Trump told reporters afterwards that the two had a “great relationship.”
Trump said there was “a tremendous crowd” to meet him at the summit — raising memories of a controversy last year when he denied that his presidential inauguration had been sparsely attended.
“It’s a crowd like they’ve never had before at Davos,” said Trump, who has not attended the summit in the Swiss resort before.
“I assume they’re here because of Klaus,” he joked, referring to WEF founder Klaus Schwab, who was standing next to him.
The focus in Davos will then return to international commerce, at the end of a week dominated by anxiety about Trump-driven protectionism and by turmoil in currency markets caused by his Treasury secretary apparently tolerating a weaker dollar.
Trump will stress that he wants free trade as long as it is “fair and reciprocal”, and will dwell on “lifting up the forgotten men and women” left behind by globalisation, the official said.
In Davos he faces an audience of politicians, bankers and titans of industry many of whom view him and his more nationalistic policies with concern bordering on contempt.
The contempt was returned in spades by Trump during his 2016 election campaign, when he assailed Wall Street and the Davos elite as the enemy of America’s working class at a time of declining wages and job security nearly a decade on from a global financial crisis.
Trump will also use his speech to say that he expects other countries to enforce laws and trade agreements, the administration official said, after Washington this week targeted China and South Korea with new tariffs, and as it renegotiates the NAFTA pact with Canada and Mexico.
“The United States will no longer tolerate things like the theft of intellectual property, forced technology transfers, industrial subsidies,” the official said.
The former real estate mogul was on glad-handing form during a dinner Thursday with European bosses including Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, HSBC’s Mark Tucker and Patrick Pouyanne of French energy group Total SA.
In opening remarks, each CEO was quick to stress the size of their US workforce, the many billions poured into America or to praise his tax cut.
Not everyone in Davos was pleased to see Trump there, however, as campaign groups displayed protest messages on nearby mountains.
A year ago, the Davos spotlight was claimed by China’s communist leader Xi Jinping, who took up the torch of global trade to the delight of the well-heeled audience then anxious about Trump’s inauguration.
The Davos elite are keen now to see which version of Trump will speak Friday afternoon — the business-friendly tycoon or the leader who berated the rest of the world at the UN General Assembly last September.
“I think they’ve already built down their expectations so far that anything he may say that’s conciliatory, they’ll be grateful for,” Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at Washington’s Center for a New American Security, told AFP at the forum.