World Economic Forum 2008 in Davos

Market avalanches hit Davos talks

By Barry Neild
DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- Avalanching global markets were expected to come crashing onto the agenda in the Swiss ski resort of Davos this week as world leaders and big business names gathered for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The five-day meeting, in recent years a chance for the financial world to celebrate bold expansion and strong growth, is likely to take a pessimistic turn as the threat of worldwide economic slowdown stalks its participants.

Just as last year's Davos meeting presaged its hot topic of environmental concerns with unseasonably snow-free ski slopes, so this year's appears to have been delivered its warning in the shape of market turmoil.

On Tuesday, share prices across Europe and Asia plunged a second day on fears of an impending recession, despite steps announced by President George W. Bush to inject life into the U.S. economy.

Soaring oil prices, the falling dollar, rising food prices, trade imbalances and a tide of protectionism have added to the broad economic woes linked to the slowing the U.S. economy.

Financial concerns and Washington's role in shaping the world's financial future are already on the agenda at Davos, where one of the key questions this year will be: "If America sneezes, does the world still catch a cold?"

Amid plunging temperatures and swirling snow, such gloom is likely to tone down what has previously been a star-studded event, which has previously enjoyed appearances by Hollywood actresses Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone.

Stalwart celebrity campaigner Bono is still scheduled to appear -- as are fellow musician Brian Eno and English actress Emma Thompson -- alongside 27 heads of state or government and 113 cabinet ministers.

Among the presidents, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, Israel's Shimon Peres, Colombia's Alvaro Uribe, Nigeria's Umaru Yar'Adua and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, are likely to draw attention.

Other big names include U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair.

Middle East peace prospects are expected to be a key theme with U.S. Secretary of State and top negotiator Condoleezza Rice set to open the event on January 23 -- but financial fears are certain to dominate.

Davos organizer Klaus Schwab, who founded the event in 1971, warned that despite such an influential guest list, the 2008 meeting was unlikely to deliver any short-term solutions.

"You will not have decisions coming out of this meeting but you will have enlightened minds and hopefully everyone coming back to his political task, his business responsibilities, will go more or less in the same direction," Schwab told CNN.

However, Schwab said that because the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis that heralded the recent economic downturn, was one of a slew of factors driving market turmoil, the World Economic Forum was ideally placed to push discussion forward. Watch Schwab talk about corporate responsibility. »

"Look at this issue, of course there's the sub-prime crisis, but it's interconnected with so many other things: The raise of the oil price, the currency situations, starting inflation so we have to bring everything and everybody together to look at matters in an inter-disciplinary collaborative manner, that's what Davos is about."

Global warming, dwindling water supplies and the eradication of poverty are among other topics to be tackled by the forum, which is often dismissed as a talking shop that achieves little in the way of concrete progress.

With security tight around the remote town, there are unlikely to be any of the kind of anti-globalization protests that have surrounded other world economic summits -- although demonstrations have been held days earlier in the Swiss city of Bern.

But organizers have attempted to encourage external debate by inviting people to submit their reactions to "The Davos Question" via Internet video sharing site YouTube -- one of several new media innovations that also include updates from a team of bloggers.

But Davos doesn't take itself too seriously. Seminars including "The Science of Love" and one on how smells affect business are likely to help break the ice for those looking to capitalize on what is also one of the world's biggest schmoozing festivals.

(CNN) -- What will be the biggest question asked at Davos this year? The environment, economic development and energy security will all be hot topics discussed by the rich and powerful who will gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum from January 23 to 27.

But this year the World Economic Forumhas joined YouTube to give you the chance to add your voice to the debate, no board position on a multi-national corporation needed.

Called "The Davos Question," anyone can record a YouTube video expressing their thoughts on how to improve the world, which, if ranked highly enough by other YouTube users, will then be shown at some of the public sessions attended by world leaders gathered in Davos.

The question being posed is: "What one thing do you think that countries, companies or individuals must do to make the world a better place in 2008?"

If you have an answer that you would like to share with the world and want to be heard by those attending the events in Davos then record a video and post it on The Davos Question Web site.

There have already been over 188,000 views of the videos currently on the site, and CEO's of companies including Ben Verwaayen of BT, Carlos Ghosn of Renault Nissan and Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys have posted their own thoughts. In a further effort to encourage more public debate at Davos, a YouTube filming booth has been set up in the town itself.

You can watch the videos others have already posted at The Davos Question Web site, and, just as importantly, rank them. The highest ranked videos will be shown to a group of world leaders at Davos and broadcast live on its Web site.

If you can make your answer thought-provoking, to the point, and look good, the more chance you have of it being ranked highly, so try and make your view-point and video as original as you can. You can film it in any form, be it documentary, skit, or animation, anything goes.


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