President Donald Trump has told delegates attending the World Economic Forum to “put their own citizens first,” but that approach has already been criticized by other public figures advocating a multilateral and consensual approach to global affairs.
Challenging Trump, Angel Gurria, the secretary-general of the OECD, an organization of 36 member countries that work with each other (as well as with more than 70 non-member economies) to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development, told CNBC that multilateralism was a necessity in the modern world.
“How can you deal with international trade if not multilaterally?,” he said, speaking to CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick at the forum in the Swiss Alps.
“How can you deal with things like migration, how can you deal with things like climate, for that matter, how can you deal with investment flows that go across borders, if not multilaterally? Clearly the multilateral approach is the way to go.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump spoke of his “America First” agenda during his keynote speech to the World Economic Forum and encouraged other nations to adopt a similar nation-focused approach to economics and political relations around the world.
“America’s newfound prosperity is undeniable, unprecedented and unmatched anywhere in the world,” Trump said from the annual gathering of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Secretary General Angel Gurria.
Adam Berry | Getty Images
“America achieved this stunning turnaround not by making minor changes to a handful of policies, but by adopting a whole new approach centered entirely on the well-being of the American worker.”
Trump’s speech comes on the back of the signing of a “phase one” trade deal between the U.S. and China, although Trump reiterated that most tariffs would remain on Chinese goods while a “second phase” is being negotiated.
Gurria said that an easing of trade tensions was a way to promote growth; “if we don’t go multilateral we’re going to suffer more stagnation, we’re going to suffer more slowing of growth.”
“The U.S. has already seen a slowing of their own growth, just like in China, just like the rest of the world. The great secret after today’s speech by the president of the U.S. is that the U.S. (is) not the only bright spot in the world economy but how can we generalize that? We know that it is by lowering these (trade) tensions,” Gurria said.
—CNBC’s Thomas Frank contributed reporting to this story.