Clinton urges closing gap between rich and poor

President offers views on economic globalization at forum in Switzerland


DAVOS, Switzerland -- Amid a sudden wave of angst among corporate and political leaders about the growing gap between rich and poor, President Clinton appealed to them yesterday to make global trade work for the poor.

In what amounted to his gospel on globalization, Clinton told an audience of chief executives and national leaders attending the World Economic Forum that if the economic elite who had created, managed and benefited from globalization did not listen to the concerns of those left out, protectionism would return.

"This is a new network," Clinton said, speaking to an affluent and influential audience that included top business executives but also the leaders of South Africa and Colombia and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"But don't leave the little guys out," the president added.

About 500 demonstrators, apparently trying to mirror on a smaller scale the disturbances against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November, were kept away from the hall where Clinton spoke by phalanxes of heavily armed Swiss police officers.

But a group of demonstrators broke windows in a nearby McDonald's restaurant that features a large statue of the company's icon, Ronald McDonald, and, according to witnesses, injured several police officers.

Personal imprimatur

Clinton is the first U.S. president to attend the forum, and his presence here, if for less than a day, was seen as an effort to put his personal imprimatur on the forces of globalization that his economic polices have encouraged.

With five Cabinet secretaries accompanying him, including Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, Clinton used the occasion to elaborate on the major foreign policy theme of his State of the Union address Thursday.

"We have got to reaffirm unambiguously that open markets and rules-based trade are the best engine we know to lift living standards, reduce environmental destruction and build shared prosperity," the president remarked, adding, "This is true whether you're in Detroit, Davos, Dhaka or Dakar."

Making adjustments

To include the developing world in the benefits of globalization, the well-off have to make some adjustments, he said.

Among these, the president said, are lifting the burden of debt of developing countries, inviting the committee on trade and environment of the World Trade Organization to examine environmental concerns of developing countries, and developing new institutional forums for including those who feel left out of the global economy.

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