Trump to Tell Davos Forum He Won’t Tolerate Trade Abuses, IP Theft

DAVOS (Reuters) -
President Donald Trump arrives at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Friday. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

President Donald Trump will urge a top-level gathering of political leaders and chief executives on Friday to recognize that his administration will not tolerate intellectual property theft and trade abuses, a senior U.S. official said.

The president is due to give the main closing address to the World Economic Forum at the Swiss ski resort of Davos, where outright and veiled criticism of his America First agenda captured headlines ahead of the president’s arrival on Thursday.

That agenda has included unilateral trade sanctions and threats of more action, particularly against China.

“The United States will no longer tolerate things like the theft of intellectual property or forced technology transfers or industrial subsidies … and dumping, [and] trade abuses,” the U.S. official told reporters in Davos.

The official said Trump’s stance on trade should be viewed less as a warning than an explanation of his commitment to the international trading system and enforcing “rules of the road.”

Donald Trump is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the annual summit since Bill Clinton in 2000. He was greeted on arrival on Thursday by hundreds of curious delegates who snapped pictures as he entered the congress center.

He made an immediate impression: he talked up the dollar, going against the grain of previous remarks made by his treasury secretary at Davos, and threatened to withhold aid to Palestinians unless they pursued peace with Israel.

But a thrust of his visit has been to convince business leaders to step up investment in the United States.

“A lot of people are coming back to the United States. We are seeing tremendous investment and today has been a very exciting day. Very great day and great for our country. Thank you very much,” President Trump told reporters in Davos on Thursday.

After meeting the prime ministers of Britain and Israel, the president hosted a dinner with leaders of some of the world’s largest firms, including Nestle, SAP and Siemens, Deloitte and Bayer. Senior members of his Cabinet were also present.

President Trump had never been invited to Davos before. He basked in the praise of several executives, who applauded his tax cuts. He gave each corporate leader an opportunity to describe his business briefly. Many mentioned the corporate tax cuts that he pushed through Congress late last year as a positive sign of growth and investment, according to a Reuters reporter who was present.

His speech on Friday will follow a week of warnings by European leaders on the dangers of nationalism, isolationism and protectionism.

Without naming Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel evoked the build-up to the two world wars and openly questioned whether leaders had learned the lessons from those 20th century conflicts.

Before his trip to Davos, Trump imposed 30-percent tariffs on imported solar panels, among the first unilateral trade restrictions made by the administration as part of a broader protectionist agenda.

On Wednesday in Davos, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made comments supportive of a weaker dollar. Markets interpreted the remarks as a shift in U.S. policy and sent the dollar sharply lower, sparking concerns from European allies about a trade war.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi took a swipe at Secretary Mnuchin’s remarks, saying they threatened a decades-old pact between the world’s leading economies not to target currencies.

President Trump later told CNBC in an interview that he supported a strong dollar and expected the currency to rise.

“The dollar is going to get stronger and stronger and ultimately I want to see a strong dollar,” he said, adding that Mnuchin’s comments had been misinterpreted.

Trump’s decision to come to Davos came as a surprise because he has railed against “globalists” and elites, while promoting an “America First” agenda that goes down poorly in this bastion of free trade, multilateralism and capitalism.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he had “strongly recommended” that Trump attend the forum during a recent phone conversation, saying he thought it was a good thing for Trump to explain his strategic goals and hear different viewpoints.

There is broad concern in European capitals that 2018 could be the year that Trump’s bark on trade turns into bite, as he considers punitive measures on steel and threatens to end the ’90s-era North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Policymakers have been openly critical of his foreign policy but with the U.S. stock market soaring, corporate tax cuts padding companies’ pockets and U.S. consumers spending again, some companies are quietly applauding the U.S. president.