President Trump will address the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month, the White House said Tuesday.
The surprise engagement, first reported by the New York Times, will place Trump among many of the world’s richest and most influential leaders in government, business and foreign policy. The gathering Jan. 23 to 26 will also place Trump deep in the belly of a European-flavored elite that has openly scorned the American president as boorish or reckless.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump will use the forum to talk about his “America First” agenda, a worldview that he has described as the sensible prioritizing of American interests over those of other nations but that his critics call a retreat from an American global leadership based on democratic principles.
“The President welcomes opportunities to advance his America First agenda with world leaders,” Sanders said in a statement. “At this year’s World Economic Forum, the President looks forward to promoting his policies to strengthen American businesses, American industries, and American workers.”
Trump would be the first U.S. leader since President Bill Clinton to attend the Davos meeting. Its picturesque location in the Swiss Alps has long attracted some of the world’s wealthiest financiers, but it is also seen as a posh opportunity for leaders to interact with the world’s economic elite. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the Davos meeting in 2017, a first for a Chinese leader.
The Davos announcement comes as Trump faces crucial decisions about where to take his economic agenda in the second year of his presidency. The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul package Congress passed last month has just gone into effect, something that he has promised will lead to an expansion of the U.S. economy and higher wages. But he is also mulling a number of controversial trade decisions, including whether to rework or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, a potential move that has many world leaders on edge.
Organizers of the glittery gathering in a Swiss mountain town say it is “committed to improving the state of the world.”
This year’s theme is “creating a shared future in a fractured world.”
“The global context has changed dramatically: geostrategic fissures have re-emerged on multiple fronts with wide-ranging political, economic and social consequences,” the World Economic Forum website says in announcing this year’s meeting. “Realpolitik is no longer just a relic of the Cold War. Economic prosperity and social cohesion are not one and the same. The global commons cannot protect or heal itself.”
“Politically, new and divisive narratives are transforming governance,” it says, in likely reference to the populist-influenced political shifts that helped propel Trump to victory in 2016 and that are also coursing through European politics.
“Economically, policies are being formulated to preserve the benefits of global integration while limiting shared obligations such as sustainable development, inclusive growth and managing the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the statement continues. “Socially, citizens yearn for responsive leadership; yet, a collective purpose remains elusive despite ever-expanding social networks. All the while, the social contract between states and their citizens continues to erode.”
The Davos trip comes after Trump’s messy falling-out with his former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who often ridiculed such international gatherings. Instead, Trump has shown a tendency in recent months to follow the advice of market-focused friends and advisers. This can be seen in last-minute changes he agreed to in the new tax law, which reduced taxes for the wealthy more than many were expecting.
Still, it is unclear whether Trump will show flashes of populism ahead of the midterm elections as he decides how to follow through on trade threats. Those decisions, which could affect the global flow of steel and aluminum, could come within weeks.