From Theresa May's Davos address to Jack Ma's future forecasts, via an impassioned outpouring by the "faceless, unelected bureaucrats" of Brussels, here's a round-up of our favourite stories of the third day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, just in case you missed them.
Theresa May’s global Britain
In a much-anticipated speech delivered to Davos on Britain’s exit from the European Union, Theresa May gave an upbeat delineation of Britain’s future outside the EU.
Brexit was a vote to embrace the wider world, rather than a rejection of it, the British prime minister told the audience. “Britain is and always will be open for business,” she said.
Free markets, free trade and globalization should be made to work for everyone: "It is essential for business to demonstrate leadership, to show that in this globalized world, everyone is playing by the same rules and that the benefits of economic success are there for all our citizens," she said.
Jack Ma: 3 tips for a better world
In a one-on-one interview, Chinese business magnate and Alibaba founder Jack Ma said the “next 30 years are critical for the world”.
The rise of technology giants such as Facebook, Alibaba and Google meant the coming decades would be all about handling “the implications of this technology”, he explained.
Here’s what he thinks our priorities should be:
1. “The most important thing is to make the technology inclusive – make the world change.”
2. “Pay attention to those people who are 30 years old, because those are the internet generation, the builders of the world.”
3. “Let’s pay attention to the companies who have fewer than 30 employees.” (He would like to see small businesses thrive, he explained.)
It’s easy to remember: “So, 30 years and 30 years old and 30 employees," he summarized. "That way we can make the world much better."
Google chief: I didn’t see AI coming
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google and one of the most successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, told Davos participants that he did not foresee the artificial intelligence revolution that has transformed the tech industry, even though it now influences every one of his company’s major projects.
“I didn’t pay attention to it at all, to be perfectly honest,” he said in a one-on-one conversation with Professor Klaus Schwab. “Having been trained as a computer scientist in the 90s, everybody knew that AI didn’t work. People tried it, they tried neural nets, and none of it worked.”
If the rise of the machines was hard to predict, then its future applications are even harder to imagine. “What can these things do? We don’t really know the limits,” said Brin. “It has incredible possibilities. I think it’s impossible to forecast accurately.”
Stop blaming Brussels, say EU chiefs
Leaders of the European Union lashed out at the forces that could bring it down in an emotive session at Davos, days after Theresa May revealed that Britain was heading for a clean break.
Martin Schulz, the outgoing President of the European Parliament, said that European heads of state used Brussels as a scapegoat, failing to tell their citizens that they were responsible for the decisions made there.
“This double game is destroying the European spirit,” he said, adding: “The EU is as strong as the member states allow.”
Striking a serious tone, he spoke of the middle-class frustration at falling living standards, which is fuelling a populist rejection of the European Union.
"Unemployment is plummeting (in the Netherlands), and still at the core of society, people are disgruntled, the middle classes are unconvinced ... It’s so easy to blame the commission; we take the blame."
Loopholes in the international tax regime were on the agenda at Davos this week, where Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam, took part in a session on "taxation without borders".
"We need to look at tax dodging in connection with rising inequality,” she said. "Take a country like Kenya. It’s losing $1.1 billion every year through tax incentives. That’s double the health budget."
Also on the panel was Panama's Foreign Minister, Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado. In the context of the Panama Papers leak, she said: "The leak came which pointed out a global problem, it made us run faster than we were already running. Today there is not one issue pending in Panama’s steps to comply with the highest standards internationally."
Oxfam's research found that 90% of the world’s biggest companies had a presence in at least one tax haven.
The Russian Federation has seen nascent economic recovery over the past year. Can it gain momentum in 2017?
Absolutely, said Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, speaking in a televised conversation earlier today. “Russia has passed these severe times with flying colours,” he told the audience.
Businessman Kirill Dmitriev chimed in with news that the Russian stock market had risen by 50% - in spite of sanctions. Dmitriev also dismissed as “myth” the idea that the economy had been damaged by US sanctions, imposed on Moscow for Russia’s actions in Ukraine. “Sanctions did not achieve their objectives, which was to change policy.”
Speaking of a top aide to Donald Trump who spoke at Davos earlier this week, he said: “(Anthony) Scaramucci understands that the sanctions united Russia rather than reduced the popularity of the president.”
And on the incoming Trump administration? The deputy PM was optimistic. “I hope Trump – a superb professional entrepreneur – will become a professional president and achieve results for global security,” he said. He was similarly warm about the European Union, saying Russia would prefer it to stay united. "It's painful for us to watch Brexit," he said.
A more nimble UN
Just a few weeks ago, António Guterres embarked on what has been described as the most impossible job in the world. Today, he was in Davos to outline his plans for reforming the decades-old institution.
His main priority: “Creating a more nimble and flexible organization.” If anyone can do it, he can. As head of UNHCR, the UN’s refugee arm, he managed to slash overheads without reducing the services they provided.
Other plans include reform of peacekeeping operations – which have been mired in controversy following revelations of sexual assaults – and helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
With all the criticism being levelled at the United Nations, will he be able to push through these reforms? Absolutely, he says. Because there is no alternative.
“It is possible to move when you feel the pressure, and we now feel the pressure, because the needs that are presented by the implementation of the Paris climate agreement and the SDGs, and the increasing needs coming from conflicts, will force us to deliver more," he said.
Is the world headed for a new trade war?
That was the question moderator Gillian Tett, US editor of The Financial Times, asked in Thursday’s session on Protectionism. Though most panelists said that this is unlikely, Roberto Azevêdo, head of the World Trade Organization, did issue this warning: “We should not talk ourselves into a trade war. It would lead to a catastrophe of untold proportions.”
Min Zhu, Chinese economist and former Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, put a figure on the immediate consequences: “If the US imposed 45% tariff on Chinese imports, it would cut China’s GDP growth by a third, and USA GDP growth in half,” he said.
Cecilia Malmstrom, EU Commissioner for Trade, concurred with this gloomy analysis: "US tariffs would risk a domino effect across the world,” she said. “They would distort trade and lead to much higher consumer prices.”
CEOs David Cote of Honeywell and David Abney from UPS, struck a more moderate tone. “It is too early to press the panic button,” Abney said. “We need to see what ends up happening.” But they did express their disappointment about the public backlash against globalization, and took partial responsibility for it. “We haven't done a good job in communicating the benefits of globalization,” Abney said.
Overall, all participants said they hoped trade deals would continue to be made between nations worldwide, including a Transpacific Partnership between the US and a dozen Asian countries, and a new agreement between the EU and the UK, when the latter leave the EU later this year.
Malmstrom did underline that the UK would go to “number 18 in the queue." But WTO Director-General Azevedo called for reason: “I hope trade negotiations will never end,” he said.