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WEF guest list reflects world geopolitical and economic woes

Organisers say the 2023 WEF summit will stand out for record participation across the board with 379 public figures expected to show up. That includes 52 heads of state and government – the bulk of them (30) from Europe, which is still reeling from the energy and economic fallout of Russia’s war on Ukraine. President of the European Commission Ursula Van Der Leyen is attending. 

The United States and China are both sending high-level delegations but not their presidents. The US delegation features security heavyweights Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher Wray, along with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Battling a surge of Covid, China is sending Vice-Premier Liu He, the highest ranking official to attend WEF since the pandemic started.

Organisers note that geopolitical and geoeconomics backdrop is especially delicate this year. No representatives of war-mongering, sanction-hit Russia, as was the case in the 2022 edition, were invited to Davos. Instead, back in the limelight is the House of Ukraine, which stopped traffic on the promenade last year with tough exhibits on Russian war crimes and appeals by the country’s powerbrokers including beleaguered president Volodymr Zelensky. The Ukrainian leader is expected to again make a remote video appearance.

How to avert a looming recession and tackle soaring food and energy prices will be top of mind at Davos. The high presence of 56 finance ministers (another WEF record), 30 trade ministers and 19 central bank governors reflects a grim global outlook. The World Trade Organization’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and head of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva will set the tone in the search for solutions in line with this year’s WEF theme of restoring trust in a fragmented world. 

The A-list at Davos includes 60 CEOs from across sectors and the globe. The top brass of Swiss multinational companies has a high showing this year compared to last. Top executives from ABB, Adecco, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Roche, MKS Pamp, Nestle and SICPA; as well as Swiss banking giants Credit Suisse and UBS and reinsurer SwissRe have all put Davos on their agenda.  

The guestlist tilts heavy to the Global North and wealthy West but organisers made of highlighting a broad Asian, Latin American and African footprint. The newcomer presidents of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol and Ferdinand R. Marcos of the Philippines have confirmed their attendance, along with Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro and Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso.  

In the words of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the global house is “still on fire.” And Switzerland’s unseasonably warm start to the year and snow shortages should help add urgency to the climate agenda; but like Covid it commands less attention this year.  A total of 30 ministers from the “climate energy nexus” are expected at WEF despite a history of lofty pledges and ambitions to make progress ahead of COP28 in the United Arab Emirates.