Economy: Europe dominates Davos, but Bill Gates warns not to forget poor and hungry

Updated On: Jan 27, 2012

The European debt crisis has cast a pall over the World Economic Forum at the Swiss Alpine resort town of Davos. But Bill Gates and several national and UN officials have urged the G20 to keep world hunger on the agenda despite the looming financial crisis.

Economic Doom and Gloom

"The mood here is one of depression and gloom and no one is sure if the future will be any better," said Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel-winning Bangladeshi economist and founder of Grameen Bank.

A frequent speaker at the forum, Dr. Yunus said that this year's atmosphere was the worst in his memory. "I found that confidence (among attendees) has fallen to its lowest level," Yunus said. "There has never been a more critical time since the forum started."

Report: Davos grapples with bleak forecast [China Daily, 27 Jan 2012]

Cameron's Remarks at Davos: Europe, Doha

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has told EU leaders they must be "bolder" if they want to shake off their economic troubles, saying "tinkering won't cut it anymore". Mr. Cameron's comments at Davos come ahead of a European summit meeting in Brussels on Monday.

He called for a target for reducing red tape in the EU, and said the group should explore new free trade deals.

Mr. Cameron said there had been no movement on renegotiating Britain's inclusion in a new fiscal treaty thrashed out by European leaders last month. Britain was the only one of the 27 European Union members which outright refused to sign the new deal promising closer fiscal scrutiny.

Britain's refusal means countries must sign the deal as a separate agreement outside the EU. Some had thought that a deal would be reached with Britain, but Mr. Cameron told journalists at Davos he could not see that scenario changing.

Finally, Mr. Cameron has called on Europe to bypass the Doha round of global trade talks. Instead, Mr. Cameron thinks European countries should seek separate agreements with the United States and other willing parties.

The comments break with the orthodox position of most officials, who have for years called for a final push to conclude the negotiations under the World Trade Organization. But they also reflect a growing recognition that WTO trade talks have stalled for the foreseeable future over sticking points like tariffs and agricultural subsidies.

Report: David Cameron urges European leaders to 'be bolder' [BBC, 26 Jan 2012]

Report: Cameron: Britain no closer to joining European fiscal treaty [CNN, 26 Jan 2012]

Report: UK PM David Cameron urges EU to bypass Doha talks [The Economic Times, 27 Jan 2012]

Miliband: Capitalism's Future?

Amid discussions at Davos, Ed Miliband, Mr. Cameron's chief domestic opponent as leader of the UK's Labour Party, has published a commentary in the New York Times asking whether 20th-century capitalism is failing 21st-century society.

Mr. Miliband argues the trickle-down promise of conservative economics has turned into a gravity-defying reality in which wealth has flowed upward. Addressing the squeeze in middle-class incomes requires fresh thinking from governments about how people train for their working lives and what a living wage should be.

Analysis: At Davos, Debating Capitalism’s Future [New York Times, 26 Jan 2012]

Don't Forget the Poor and Hungry

Meanwhile, Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft turned philanthropist, says policymakers must not let the financial crisis distract them from work to improve health and food security.

“It’s only in the last three to four years that agriculture has got back on the agenda but unfortunately that has coincided with the financial crisis," he said.

“But I’m optimistic we can help the world’s one billion hungry. Keeping the aid dollar will be a challenge but I’m optimistic.”

Speaking alongside Mr. Gates, Bruno Le Maire, the French agriculture minister, said: “There is a risk that leaders lose focus on food security. We should never forget that hunger is an economic but also a moral disaster for the world.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates there are at least 925 million undernourished people in the world — almost one in seven.

“We can feed the whole population — 7 billion — that we have,” said José Graziano da Silva, head of the FAO.

“The problem is not the supply side,” he explained. “The problem is the access — they don’t have the money to buy it or they don’t have the water and land they need if they are subsistence farmers.”

Report: Davos 2012: Gates calls on G20 not to ignore the hungry [The Telegraph, 26 Jan 2012]

Report: Nigerian finance minister tells Davos financial crises don’t matter unless people have food [Washington Post, 27 Jan 2012]

Also at Davos, Mr. Gates made a show of faith in donating a further US$750 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Mr. Gates said tough economic times were “no excuse for cutting aid to the world’s poorest,” and called the fund one of the “most effective” entities to which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donates.

The Global Fund pays for AIDS drugs for more than 3 million poor people, and has distributed more than 200 million mosquito nets and prevented more than 4 million tuberculosis deaths. But the fund has been struggling to raise money. Some government donors have backed away, either because of their own budget crises or because of thefts of the fund’s money in different countries.

“It’s particularly important that we got a big whopping vote of confidence from a guy who is thought to have business sense,” said Jon Liden, a spokesman for the fund.

Report: Bill Gates Donates $750 Million to Shore Up Disease-Fighting Fund [New York Times, 26 Jan 2012]

The World Economic Forum

The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting is held in Davos, Switzerland, organised by a Swiss non-profit foundation. The meeting brings together some 2,500 business leaders, policymakers and experts.

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