The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum will come to a climax on Friday when Donald Trump becomes the first US president since Bill Clinton to address the Davos talkfest.
To say that Trump’s lunchtime speech is eagerly awaited is an understatement. Excitement has been building ever since the White House announced that the president would join Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May and Narendra Modi at this year’s event.
A year ago, Davos was like a performance of Hamlet without the prince, because while everyone was talking about the newly elected Trump, the man himself was on the other side of the Atlantic preparing for his inauguration.
This year, Trump has the opportunity to take his America-first message to a bastion of globalisation: the place where those running transnational corporations wax lyrical about the benefits of open markets and trade liberalisation.
The US chief executives in Davos will not be saying no to the generous tax cuts Trump is offering, but they certainly don’t want him to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) or start a trade war with China.
The WEF last week published its global risks report in which it warns of ecological meltdown and stresses that action to combat global warming would be hampered by the trend towards “nation-state unilateralism”. No prizes for guessing who it has in mind.
Trump will make headlines whatever he says. One option would be to play to the crowd inside the conference hall by insisting that the US remains wedded to multilateralism. But to do so he would have to repudiate what he has said up until now about immigration, globalisation and climate change. That would be a big story.
But it would also be news if Trump decides that Davos provides the perfect opportunity to please his supporters by sticking it to the global elite. Canadian officials believe the US is gearing up to pull out of Nafta and if Trump wanted to secure maximum publicity for such a decision, he would drop the bombshell on Friday.