Jean Christophe Bott  /  AP
Police fire rubber bullets at protestors outside the meeting hall of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday. More than two dozen senior officials from key economies will try to agree on whether to send a political signal that a new global trade deal can, at last, be completed this year.
By
updated 1/29/2011 2:55:35 PM ET 2011-01-29T19:55:35

Where anti-capitalist protesters failed at the World Economic Forum, the protests in Egypt have become the most-talked about subject at the annual Swiss Alpine retreat of global political and business leaders.

"Obviously what's going on in Egypt has colored everything," said Adrian Monck, the forum's managing director.

He estimated that Egypt's popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak featured in two thirds of debates that normally focus on issues such as the global economy, cybercrime and food security.

Though the constantly changing events in Egypt were omnipresent, there was still business to get down to at the annual five-day gathering.

Key global trade officials spoke of their optimism that a new deal to liberalize international commerce can be finalized, but offered little in the way of concrete progress to indicate they can reach agreement before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, about 120 demonstrators marched down the street behind the Congress Center where the World Economic Forum's annual meeting was winding down.

The event was peaceful until a brief skirmish near a train station about a kilometer away from the venue. Police fired rubber bullets at some of the protesters who tried to break through a security perimeter.

Some of the demonstrators carried a banner that read "Tunisia equals Cairo equals Davos."

It was a nod to the claims by critics that the five-day meetings serves as nothing more than a fancy get-together for the world's business and political elite without regard to common citizens.

But inside, concern over the protests in Egypt was palpable, with many calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure protesters were guaranteed freedom of expression and speech.

"I think that we have to see how things move today and, obviously, the key here is for President Mubarak to respond to the needs of his people in a way that is more directly connected to their frustrations, much more so than apparently yesterday's speech succeeded in doing," Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the forum's annual meeting.

Ron Kirk
Frank Jordans  /  AP
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk speaks with journalists after trade talks at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Kerry's comments came just minutes after Egyptian state television reported that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif had resigned on Mubarak's orders.

Salil Shetty, the head of Amnesty International, told AP that Mubarak's decision to fire his Cabinet won't quell the anti-government protests that have shaken the country for five days.

"The idea of changing your Cabinet is a bit of a joke. People are very clearly saying they want very fundamental change, constitutional change," he said.

Still, there was plenty of discussion, debate and dissent at Davos. The head of the World Trade Organization said a meeting of ministers from some two dozen countries in the Swiss ski resort of Davos had been "very constructive."

"The ministers gave a strong signal," Pascal Lamy told reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum to which the trade talks are pegged each year.

Switzerland's economy minister, Johann Schneider-Ammann, who hosted the trade talks, said that there was "a sense that we are in the end game and that if Doha is done, it needs to be done this year."

EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht concurred. "We should get a deal in July," he said. "For that we need redrafted texts in March and sustained negotiations by the senior officials till they get to an agreement."

But talk of any firm timeline was dismissed by America's top trade official.

"There was no real agreement on the timeline," said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, opening up the prospect that talks to conclude the so-called Doha round of trade negotiations — now in their tenth year — might not be completed in 2011.

Differences between the U.S. and China are seen as the main obstacle to a deal, and Kirk reiterated Washington's position that major developing economies had already benefited significantly from past free trade agreement and would gain even more from what is already on the table.

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Negotiators' inability to agree on what is described as the "last 20 percent" has spooked business and political leaders.

Pushing the talks into 2012 — a U.S. presidential election year — would make a conclusion even less likely because the sensitive issue of trade would be a hard sell for politicians of any stripe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel went so far Friday to warn that no agreement this year could set trade talks back by decades. Lamy, the WTO chief, said earlier this week that failure would undermine the international commerce rules painstakingly elaborated over the past 50 years.

Warnings of a new mercantilism have featured prominently at this year's Davos Forum, with some seeing the first signs of trade wars brewing that could undermine the fragile global economy.

"We are going to see the recovery of nationalism and protectionism," said Jose Sergio Gabrielli de Azevedo, president and CEO of Brazilian oil company Petrobras. "I think we're going to face some type of currency war."

"The U.S. is going to try to use weak dollar policy to help recovery in the U.S., and Brazil, India are not going to accept that and will fight back, and then we're going to see some struggle and conflicts," he said.

Washington, too, has accused Beijing of keeping the Chinese renminbi artificially weak to maintain its cheap labor advantage.

Meanwhile, the euro's drop in the wake of the Greek and Irish bailouts has actually benefited some economies, such as Germany, whose export industries have flourished over the past year.

Ministers from Germany and France nevertheless made clear at Davos that they wouldn't risk letting the bottom fall out of the euro, insisting that any future shocks to the 17-nation currency were unlikely.

"I think the euro will be stable," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

Christine Lagarde, France's economy minister, said "I think the euro zone has turned a corner. Let's not short Europe and let's not short the euro zone."

China's growth and worries about Europe's debts have been another focus of attention among the 2,500 business and political leaders discussing the state of the world economy in Davos this week.

___

Angela Charlton and Tomislav Skaro contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Report: 3 killed at Egyptian interior ministry

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  2. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  3. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  4. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Khalil Hamra / AP
    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
  5. Image:
    Mayra Beltran / AP
    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts
  6. Egyptian Bloggers
    Anastasia Taylor-Lind / VII Mentor
    Slideshow (10) Egyptian bloggers persistent in protests

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