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Davos 2018: Donald Trump criticised for protectionism even before arriving to deliver America First speech

Donald Trump is preparing to deliver a major speech during his first visit to the World Economic Forum, but has come in for intense criticism over his “America First” protectionism even before he has arrived in Davos.

The US President’s participation at the event had been in doubt while the federal government was in shutdown. Having signed stop-gap funding legislation, he is now due to join members of his cabinet at the event in Switzerland, where he is expected to speak on Friday.

Underscoring the populist vision that helped carry him to the White House, Mr Trump on Monday approved tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines in a bid to help US manufacturers. 


India’s Narendra Modi said ‘forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalisation’ (Getty)

While some manufacturers praised Mr Trump’s actions, he was criticised by China, Mexico and the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents installation companies, and which said the tariffs would lead to the loss of billions of dollars and could cost 23,000 US jobs.

On Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the Davos event’s opening address to talk against a new wave of protectionism, saying that trade barriers posed a danger to the world that was equal to climate change and extremist attacks. He did not mention Mr Trump by name.

“Forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalisation,” Mr Modi said, according to Reuters. “It feels like the opposite of globalisation is happening.”

The leader of a nation that for decades maintained a tightly controlled economy and which still has many regulations in place, added: “The negative impact of this kind of mindset cannot be considered less dangerous than climate change or terrorism.”

Mr Modi – whose accent Mr Trump sometimes imitates, according to a new report – urged governments not to turn towards isolationism. He quoted Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, by saying: “I don’t want the windows of my house to be closed from all directions. I want the winds of cultures of all countries to enter my house with aplomb and go out also.”

The speech by Mr Modi, the first Indian Prime Minister to deliver the event’s opening address, followed that of Chinese President Xi Jinping year. Mr Xi portrayed his country as a champion of free trade on the same week Mr Trump was inaugurated president. 

Mr Xi also urged international leaders to stick with the Paris Accord on climate change, something Mr Trump subsequently declined to do, pulling out the US and putting it in a club of just two nations, the only other country to reject the agreement being Syria.

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Desmond Lachman, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute and a former senior official with the International Monetary Fund, told The Independent both the location of Mr Trump’s visit and its timing was slightly strange. Yet he said while Mr Trump would likely claim the US has been taken advantage of for too long, he would also take the opportunity to try and take credit for America’s booming stock market.

“He likes a big stage,” he said. “This gives him a great opportunity to be rather defiant and stir up his base.”

The Associated Press said attendees at Davos differed on how they saw Mr Trump’s presence at the event.

“I find it quite sad he’s coming to the WEF, but I imagine nothing can be done about it,” said Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, a longtime disciple of the Dalai Lama.

While the President’s visit may seem out of step, he was reportedly persuaded to attend by French President Emanuel Macron and his own Vice President, Mike Pence.

Reports suggest Mr Trump will talk a lot about US business.

“I think it’s really good that he’s going,” said Bill Thomas, chairman of business services KPMG International. “The American economy is dependent on global engagement, and I think he’s in Davos because he knows that.”

WEF founder Klaus Schwab said on Monday: “It’s good to have the president here, if the snow conditions and the situation in Washington allow us.”

Mr Trump’s presence is likely to trigger large group of protesters.

Swiss police are deploying more than 4,300 troops in the region for security, which officials say compares to that on previous years. 

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