U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday reached out to the global business elite and foreign governments in Davos with a sales pitch extolling the U.S.’s appeal, but attracted boos for attacking the media. In a 15-minute speech at the climax of his début appearance at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps, Mr. Trump offered “America’s friendship and partnership” in both trade and security.
Mr. Trump kept to an orthodox political script and measured tone in his speech, during which he praised his well-heeled audience of 1,500 people as comprising some of the world’s most “remarkable citizens”. He added that the U.S. supports free trade, “but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal”, condemning “predatory behaviours” such as theft of intellectual property, industrial subsidies and state-led economic planning.
The speech came at the end of a week that saw his administration target China and South Korea with new tariffs. “The U.S. will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices,” he said. “We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others. We support free trade but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal.”
While he has a record of opposing multilateral trade agreements involving many countries, he said the U.S. would consider “mutually beneficial” bilateral trade agreements with other individual states. His remarks on trade were met in silence by the Davos audience. But they booed when he strayed off script during a brief question session after the speech with an attack on the “nasty”, “mean”, “vicious” and “fake” press.
Mr. Trump has reconciled the Davos-bashing that characterised his unorthodox march to the White House with the need to sell America to the world, and the speech gave him the opportunity to try to shift the dial away.
The President did use a British television interview recorded in Davos to strike a rare note of contrition on another controversy. After retweeting last year a British far-right group’s videos apparently showing Islamist violence, Mr. Trump said in the interview broadcast on Friday: “If you’re telling me they’re horrible racist people, I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that.” The charge that Mr. Trump is racist earned new traction this month with his reported slur against “sh****le” countries in Africa.
Before his speech in Davos, Mr. Trump held talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who currently chairs the African Union. He asked Mr. Kagame to pass on his “warmest regards” to other regional leaders at an AU summit this weekend. Mr. Trump’s presence in Switzerland has been dogged by protests and stunts by activists. But he said there was “a tremendous crowd” to meet him at the summit.
A year ago, the Davos spotlight was claimed by China’s communist leader Xi Jinping, who took up the torch of global trade to the delight of a crowd then anxious about Mr. Trump’s impending inauguration that week.