Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

The Spirit of Davos

Because of the popularity and productivity of the informal discussions at Davos, the Forum took the initiative to invite trade ministers of the top 12 trading nations and the head of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to join an Informal Gathering on World Trade in Lausanne.


By 1983, the European Management Symposium had become, as Klaus Schwab put it in his opening address, “the foremost annual gathering of decision-makers of the world economy.” Schwab remarked that at Davos were economic experts of great breadth and experience, including 500 business leaders, 100 politicians responsible for economic affairs and 100 business journalists from 52 countries.

Regular participants began to recognize the unique atmosphere and attributes of the symposium – what made the Annual Meeting so special. A Forum summary document referred to the annual gathering as “one of those increasingly rare international events where formality can be dispensed with, where personal contacts can be made, where new ideas can be tried out in complete freedom, where people are aware of the responsibilities involved in belonging to an international community, where we have time to look at the really important issues rather than everyday pressures. This is what we call the Spirit of Davos.”1

President Reagan’s address via satellite in 1982 signalled the beginning of regular US government participation in the symposium. In 1983, US Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige assured Davos participants that the United States would remain engaged in the world. “The likelihood of the US slipping into isolationism and protectionism is 1,000 to 1 against, so strong are our memories of what happened in the early Thirties,” he said.

A special event at this symposium was the World Summit Session on Global Economic Issues, which was chaired by former French Prime Minister Raymond Barre. Klaus Schwab moderated the discussion, which included high-level public figures from developing countries.

Another highlight was the Prime Ministers’ session, which Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, moderated. The panellists – Robert D. Muldoon of New Zealand (also his country’s minister of finance), Poul Schlüter of Denmark, Kalevi Sorsa of Finland, Cesar E. Virata of the Philippines; and Kaare Willoch of Norway – analysed the key problems of leadership in the West and economic policy-making.

On that occasion, the group launched the idea of a new trade round.

Later, at the invitation of the Uruguay government, the group met again in Montevideo, where the Uruguay Round of global trade negotiations was officially launched. These talks would eventually lead to the creation in 1995 of the successor to the GATT, the World Trade Organization (WTO). Trade ministers now routinely meet at Davos in an informal ministerial gathering on the sidelines of the Annual Meeting.

  1. Highlights of the Symposium and Summary of the Programme, Davos Symposium 1983, European Management Forum