Ahead of President Donald Trump’s speech to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting on Friday, his delegation made its debut in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday morning, denouncing the idea that the president’s appearance at the yearly celebration of globalization is at odds with his populist agenda.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the Trump delegation is attending the confab to tell the world leaders, ministers, CEOs, and private investors in attendance that America is open for business.
“[O]ur objective is to interact with important counterparts,” Mnuchin said at a press conference with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “As the largest economy in the world it’s very important for us to interact with our counterparts.”
Mnuchin dismissed the idea that Trump may field criticism from the meeting’s participants: “We don’t have to worry about this crowd.”
But Trump did receive veiled blowback from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, who in his address to the meeting announced a new TPP-like trade pact that doesn’t include the U.S., and said Canada is “working hard to make sure our neighbor to the south understands the benefits of the [North American Free Trade Agreement].”
Mnuchin on Wednesday characterized the U.S. as “big fans of bilateral trade agreements.”
“We absolutely believe in free and fair trade and anybody who wants to do trade with us on a reciprocal basis is welcome to do it,” he said.
Ross was more adversarial in addressing the matter: “There’s a lot of free trade rhetoric from other countries, but in fact their behavior is quite protectionist,” he said.
And Ross didn’t back down from the prospect of a trade war a day after the U.S. slapped tariffs on imported solar panels and cells that target China. “Trade wars are fought every single day,” he said, “the difference is U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts.”
Mnuchin said earlier this month that he didn’t realize that “the global elite” attended WEF’s annual meeting, but that is a rather apt description of the people who flock to the Swiss ski town every year. That’s why Trump’s decision to attend was a surprise, given the populist fervor that swept him into office.
The remarks by Mnuchin and Ross were the first by members of Trump’s delegation at Davos and could foreshadow what Trump will say in his much-anticipated speech.