DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi mounted a defense of globalization at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, urging joint action on climate change and economic cooperation, in a speech some delegates took as a swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump’s America First agenda.
Modi, making the forum’s first speech by an Indian head of state in more than two decades, did not mention Trump by name but he criticised the rise of protectionism in remarks delivered three days before the U.S. President will address the summit.
“Instead of globalization, the power of protectionism is putting its head up,” Modi said, speaking in Hindi and causing an initial flurry in the audience of business and political leaders as people reached for their translation headsets.
“Their wish is not only to save themselves from globalization, but to change the natural flow of globalization.”
Modi is leading a big government and business delegation to the summit in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, aiming to showcase India as a fast-growing economic power and a potential driver of global growth.
His opening address was a moment of personal triumph for the nationalist leader once shunned by the West for failing to prevent communal rioting in his home state. The occasion also recognized India’s growth as an economic and geopolitical power.
Anindya Bakrie, chief executive of media company PT Bakrie Global Ventura, part of Indonesia’s Bakrie conglomerate, said Modi’s remarks were a welcome contrast to U.S. isolationism.
Arun Kumar, chairman and CEO of accounting firm KPMG in India, said: “He laid out where India stands in terms of his preference for a multi-polar and multicultural world.”
Under his America First agenda, Trump has threatened to withdraw from the North American free-trade agreement, disavowed the global climate change accord and criticised global institutions including the United Nations and NATO.
Modi’s speech echoed some of the points made by Chinese President Xi Jinping at last year’s Davos summit, but he failed to generate the same enthusiasm.