Trump Lectures Leaders At Davos — But With A Twist

In shift, U.S. president says he is willing to negotiate with Asian nations ‘as a group’

President Donald Trump delivers remarks Friday at a World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland. (Screen shot via www.weforum.org)

President Donald Trump used part of his address to world and corporate leaders in Davos to lecture them about “unfair” trade practices, saying his administration is trying to “reform the international trading system.”

But he also signaled a shift in thinking, saying he is willing to consider a massive Asia-U.S. trade pact.

Trump wore several hats during his remarks, at times playing the role of salesman in chief for America by urging companies to bring their operations to the U.S. At other points, he cast himself as the new sheriff in town by pledging to crack down on what he views as other countries taking advantage of America with their “predatory” trade practices.

And at other points, he harkened back to a major theme of his campaign, urging the other leaders to craft policies for the “forgotten” people in their countries.

Watch: Immigration, Budget Talks on Hill Could Be Just That — A Lot of Talk

“We support free trade, but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal. Because in the end, unfair trade undermines us all,” Trump said during his much-anticipated address at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices, including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies and pervasive state-led economic planning.

[At Davos, Trump Will Cast Self As Global Trade Sheriff]

These and other predatory behaviors are distorting global markets and hurting workers not just in the U.S. but around the globe,” he said, the massive hall falling silent.

Trump dropped in some familiar themes during the lecturing portions of his speech, telling other world leaders they must do more in paying for their own defense — he has called on NATO members, for instance, to pay their fair share. And he called on them to do more against the Islamic State and North Korea.

He also slipped on his economics professor cap, telling the gathering of powerful politicians and wealthy business executives that “to be successful, it is not enough to invest in our economy — we must invest in our people.”

“When people are forgotten, the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all,” he said, appearing to answer critics who questioned his trip given his nationalist outlook and the globalist nature of what’s known as “the Davos crowd.”

U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Notably, after a brief question-and-answer period following his remarks, the audience gave him tepid applause as he left the stage.

As he often does, the president was plenty boastful about the state of the American economy, providing a likely preview of his first official State of the Union address, set for Tuesday night.

“Now is the perfect time to bring your business, your jobs and your investments to the United States,” he said, touting the GOP tax overhaul law and his administration’s effort to eliminate regulations. He claimed that since he took office, the U.S. has “created 2.4 million jobs,” and he bragged about the value of the stock market.

“The world is witnessing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America,” he said. “There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States.”

[Trump On Claim He Wanted to Fire Mueller: ‘Fake News’]

He also focused on his belief in trade pacts with just one other country, echoing his past criticisms of multi-nation deals. Last year, he canceled Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and launched a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But in a shift, Trump said Friday he would be willing to negotiate with some Trans-Pacific Partnership countries “as a group” about a multi-nation trade pact — but only if “it is in the interest of all.”

Before Trump spoke, a prominent business figure delivered a soft warning to the U.S. president against turning the world’s most powerful country too far inward.

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said during his introduction of Trump that “we live in an interdepenent world where decisions made by one country, particularly the United States, impact all other nations.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.