Political, Business Leaders Convene for Economic Forum

Article excerpt

GENEVA - In the serene isolation of the Swiss Alps, a select group of financiers, captains of industry and politicians today begin a search for new economic ideas in an increasingly divided world.

The brief participation by President Clinton in the five-day session of the World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos in eastern Switzerland has added new weight to the usually academic discussion.

Mr. Clinton will be one of the 33 national leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to contribute to analyses of the successes and failures of the world's economic policies. More than 1,000 business executives and political figures are taking part.

During its 30-year history, the Davos forum has helped in the sharing of policies and has resulted in warning signals. However, frequently the high-powered participants have failed to discern dangerous trends and prospects.

This year's discussions will focus on the problems generated by globalization, the growth of European unity and its implications, Africa's ominous slide into poverty and economic dependence, and Russian's apparent inability to adjust to democracy and its requirements.

A statement by the forum organizers in Geneva said the meeting is expected to "set the tone, atmosphere and priorities for the start of the century."

In the past, although rarely attracting headline attention, such meetings have often served as guidelines to governments and industrial giants.

This year's meeting is likely to extend beyond learned papers and often esoteric debate, mainly because of the impressive collection of leaders attending. Among those expected are President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority.

The meeting was preceded by accusations by some poorer nations that the forum is monopolized by international firms, which pay a $15,000 membership fee a year. The so-called "institutional partners" pay $250,000 a year and have the right to have a number of panel members attend meetings, thus having greater influence. …