There is high security in and around the Swiss ski resort of Davos as many of the world's political and corporate leaders gather this week. AFP
Agence France-Presse

Skirting the first political scandal of his new presidency, far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro will tout a “new Brazil” when he addresses the world’s business elite in Davos on Tuesday.

The president of Latin America’s biggest economy is giving the keynote address at this year’s World Economic Forum, where warnings are mounting of the dangers of a growth slowdown, yawning inequality and disastrous climate change.

US President Donald Trump along with the leaders of France, Britain and Zimbabwe have had to stay away from the Swiss ski resort as they fight political fires back home.

A trip to Davos by US officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also cancelled by Trump. But organisers said Pompeo would now address the conference by video-link from Washington on Tuesday, after Bolsonaro’s speech.

Like Trump, the “Mr Clean” Bolsonaro surfed a populist wave to ride to power, vowing an end to rampant corruption and restoration of law and order in Brazil.

But staging his first foreign trip as president, Bolsonaro has left behind a scandal about suspicious payments involving his politician son Flavio Bolsonaro, who denies any wrongdoing.

Focussing on his message at the WEF, Bolsonaro told reporters in Davos that he would “give the broadest message possible of the new Brazil that is presenting itself with our arrival in power”.

He said “Brazil is taking measures so that the world re-establishes confidence in us, that our business returns to flourishing between Brazil and the world, without being guided by ideology”.

“We will show that we are a country that is safe for investments, especially in the area of agribusiness which is very important for us.”

But while Bolsonaro’s promises on investment and deregulation have wowed the Brazilian stock market, he has also taken a page from the Trump playbook in bashing China.

If such trade tensions worry many of the well-heeled Davos crowd, so does the threat of planetary economic dislocation caused by climate change, according to a WEF survey last week.

– Trump of the Tropics –

Marco Lambertini, director general of environmental group WWF, urged Bolsonaro to heed concerns both abroad and at home about his government’s stewardship of the Amazon rainforest.

“So don’t consider the environment an anti-development concept, and don’t consider the environment as something that is against your own agenda of developing a more stable Brazil,” he told AFP.

Preservation of the Amazon from logging by agribusinesses is a key plank of the Paris accord aimed at reining in rising temperatures, experts say.

But a new analysis by the World Resources Institute said the world is on course to miss its “best chance” of preventing runaway climate change, by ensuring global greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2020.

Trump pulled out of Davos because of the US budget shutdown and then yanked his entire delegation, removing any prospect of trade peacemaking in the Alps with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan.

The WEF week features an eclectic lineup of discussions devoted to issues such as mindful parenting in the digital age, chronic loneliness and harnessing artificial intelligence without destroying jobs.

It is drawing some 3,000 political and business figures, including 65 government leaders from Germany, Israel and elsewhere.

While the gathering high in the Swiss Alps is dedicated to networking and schmoozing, the International Monetary Fund started the week with a downbeat downgrade of its forecasts for global growth.

The IMF notably cited the US-China trade war, and Brexit clouds surrounding Britain’s divorce from the European Union.

But while growth is slowing, aid charity Oxfam warned the Davos elite that inequality around the world most certainly is not.

The wealth of the world’s 26 richest people is now equivalent to that of the poorest half of humanity, Oxfam said, warning that such an imbalance was stoking popular anger and undermining democracies around the world.

Three of those billionaires are attending Davos — Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, China’s richest man Jack Ma and Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani.

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