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Competing Visions: Social Forum, Economic Forum

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February 3, 2005

Competing Visions: Social Forum, Economic Forum

Tony Blair discussed climate change and AIDS in Africa, the world's two richest men lamented the US dollar's continued decline and growing US debt, and the Chinese economy was extensively discussed at the World Economic Forum. An exclusive gathering of CEOs, celebrities, and world leaders, the conference is held yearly in the resort town of Davos, Switzerland. While speeches by Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac highlighted the plight of the poor, reports indicate that discussion was dominated by China's rapid economic growth and the "excitement" of renewed energy for World Trade Organization talks.

According to BusinessWeek magazine, one of the issues of concern in China is rapid salary growth and the "growing shortage of single women workers willing to accept very low wages." Representatives from US and Japanese multinationals discussed "how to get your profits out of China." Other sessions focused on China's growing influence in design, consumer electronics, and culture. "It's phenomenal," Bill Gates said of China. "It's a brand new form of capitalism."

World Trade Organization talks have been stalled over conflicts between poor and rich countries regarding agricultural subsidies. Another popular session looked at ways to market products to poor people, or what facilitators called the "bottom of the pyramid."

One commentator in the business press noted the contradiction in Davos between "voting poverty the number one problem facing the world today" at a Davos "town hall meeting" and "the same people in effect voting for elegance by donning black-tie and long gowns to celebrate their endeavours." A downside was that, for some, Davos is an occasion "to congratulate each other on how important they are."

An annual protest against the Davos gathering, the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, Brazil drew a record-breaking 100,000 social justice activists from around the world. Thousands of groups and issues were represented, from Mexican farmers to Indian social movements to Korean trade unionists.

The Forum is mainly a networking session for activists to form international alliances to counter the increasingly concentrated global reach of corporations. A Chicago Tribune report mentioned several European Union delegations sent to strengthen ties between workers in rich and poor countries.

While theoretical debates abound about alternatives to global capitalism, concrete campaigns also emerged from the wildly diverse social forum. Prominent this year were calls to cancel the debt of countries hit hard by the tsunami last December.

BusinessWeek: Talking Chinese at Davos

BusinessWeek: Beyond Davos' Glamour and Glitz

The Star (S. Africa): Big business guns aim aid at Africa

Asia Times: Davos meet recharges Doha Round of WTO talks

Business Report (S. Africa): Bill Gates tells Davos the dollar is going down and his money is elsewhere

Chicago Tribune: Global counterforum draws over 100,000 social activists

Inter Press: World Social Forum: The Risks Posed by Success

AllAfrica.com: World Social Forum: Is It Africa's Turn Next?

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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