By AP Business Writer
updated 1/27/2012 7:32:43 PM ET 2012-01-28T00:32:43

The World Economic Forum _ the global business meeting that attracts world leaders and Hollywood stars _ opened Wednesday in Switzerland, where the weakening dollar, the rising euro and amazement at China's rapid growth were on many minds.

As it prepares to host the 2008 summer Olympics, China's economy has gained steam, growing at a rate of 9.5 percent in 2004, a rate that's expected to rise in 2005.

"Last year China consumed 25 to 30 percent of most major industrial materials, especially metals," said Stephen S. Roach, chief economist for Morgan Stanley USA.

There was also concern about the United States. Roach said consumers there were self-indulgent and not ready for the future.

"The American consumer is an accident waiting to happen," he said.

Participants in the five-day World Economic Forum said over-regulation is the biggest threat to global business growth.

But whether that will stymie business from making headway in 2005 and beyond is likely to take a back seat to more serious issues at the annual corporate and celebrity gathering of the top names in industry, commerce, politics and entertainment.

French President Jacques Chirac was to give a preliminary "special message" Wednesday afternoon, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair was scheduled to deliver the keynote address Wednesday evening.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will speak Friday, and Jose Manuel Barroso _ the new president of the European Commission _ will get his first chance to address the world's business leaders Saturday, organizers said.

Newly inaugurated Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko is scheduled to speak on Friday, too.

Ahead of the start of the forum in the ski resort of Davos, a survey released by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 41 percent of corporate leaders said they were "very confident" of boosting revenue in the coming year, up from 31 percent a year ago.

The survey of 1,300 chief executives worldwide also found that oscillating oil prices and fears of losing good talent were evident, but worries about terrorism appeared to wane compared with 2004.

CEOs in the United States, Asia and South America were "considerably more optimistic" about the potential for revenue growth than their counterparts in Europe, added Samuel DiPiazza, CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers International Ltd.

The annual forum is more than just a chance to talk business, compare notes and devise corporate strategy. It's also a way for more humane issues to get the attention of the corporate elite and the hundreds of journalists attending.

Angelina Jolie, Richard Gere and U2 singer Bono plan to focus on how the world's eight richest countries, the G-8, can do more to reduce poverty and fight AIDS.

Security around the mountain town was evident, as police set up checkpoints on main roads and uniformed officers dotted the streets around the main site of the gathering.

Preparing for any contingency, organizers said that air force planes are ready to shoot down any unauthorized aircraft that stray too close to the 2,500 participants.

"Taking responsibility for tough choices" is the theme for this year's meetings.

Planned discussions range from heavy discussions on the world economy or individual country's problems and prospects to more self-centered themes like "knowing your own mind."

A "cultural leaders dinner" Friday gives participants a chance to meet with Gere, who has campaigned for Tibetan rights, and Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, who has witnessed the problems of people fleeing persecution. The other scheduled guests include Sharon Stone and Carole Bouquet.

Bono, former President Clinton and Microsoft founder Bill Gates will meet with Blair, South African President Thabo Mbeki and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to discuss "The G-8 and Africa _ Rhetoric or Action?"

The forum has been a favorite of top U.S. administration officials in recent years, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Clinton, but this year's event will be dominated by top European leaders as key U.S. officials stay away because of personnel changes in the Bush administration, organizers said. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is scheduled to attend, the only member of Bush's cabinet.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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