The first workshop that I attended at Davos was a session on “Demystifying Growth and Productivity” which was really a session on Global Competition and I was a bit tentative going. After all, I could attend two shorter sessions on equally fascinating subjects and this one looked decidedly focused on geographies with which I was not as familiar.
My table was led by the President of ABB’s Global Markets and attended by a Harvard Business School Professor, Tarun Khanna, who is an expert in the area of global competition. It turned out that I was an expert of sorts as well. Having lived in Silicon Valley in California and the Thames Valley in the UK, I had first hand experience in what works and doesn’t in the most imitated model in the world for global productivity and competitiveness. It also didn’t hurt that I got to experience Penang, Malaysia and Singapore on my Christmas vacation that gave me new insights on what really drives high tech competitiveness and what is driving investment into these two islands. One person was involved in the development of Dubai that has had a huge amount of development due to the fact that they have eliminated government assistance and intervention.
I learned a lot in this session, especially in that there is great confusion as to what works given that there are a lot of variables that go into competitiveness, such as tax breaks, government protection, education, institutions, free trade associations and good transportation. I was very concerned though at the level of support for protectionism presented in other names such as support and assistance.
There was a sort of softly spoken undercurrent in Davos that protectionism is the way to develop the developing countries by giving them a break. It showed up in a very non-aggressive way in this session. Pair that sentiment with a broken Washington, a multi-headed European policy and no wonder the Doha Round of trade negotiations is struggling.