Whisky in the Snow

This week sees annual events at the extreme ends of the political and economic spectrum. Davos hosts the annual four-day meeting of the World Economic Forum, which ends on Friday, which is Burns Day.

Like Comment

Davos is a popular Swiss ski resort, within the canton of Graubünden, with a scenic train connection to the Matterhorn. This week it also hosts the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The meeting ends tomorrow, Friday, January 25th, which is the 260th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. Scotland's most famous poet, who died aged only 37 in 1796, is traditionally remembered with an annual supper on, or near, this date (although the first Burns Night was actually held in July 1801, five years after his death).

The supper traditionally includes haggis (a Scottish sausage dish prepared in a sheep's stomach), Scotch whisky and recitation of Burns' poetry. The event will usually start with the Selkirk Grace, a well-known Scottish thanksgiving:

Some hae meat an canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.

Although attributed to Burns, the grace was already known in the 17th century as the 'Galloway Grace' (it was renamed because Burns was said to have delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk). The haggis is then traditionally pipped in and addressed using an ode that Burns wrote to the dish.

One of Burns best-known works is 'A Man's A Man for A' That', which is famous for its egalitarian ideas. The 1795 song ends:

Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a' that,)

That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.

For a' that, an' a' that,

It's coming yet for a' that,

That Man to Man, the world o'er,

Shall brothers be for a' that.

Some of the global issues expressed by Burns are being explored this week at the gathering in Davos. The four-day event, which started on Tuesday, is entitled 'Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution'.

On its website, WEF claims "we will use the spirit of Davos to build the future in a constructive, collaborative way". The meeting is intended to shape "the global, regional and industry agendas", which is taking place "in a context of unprecedented uncertainty, fragility and controversy", and in a world "preoccupied by crisis management at a moment of transformative change".

The forum is focussed on charting the impact of geo-economic shifts, the role of technology in defining leading production locations, and the growing 'glocalization' of manufacturing processes. According to its agenda, Davos will conduct "global dialogues" on the geopolitics of a 'multi-conceptual' world, the future of the economy, industry systems, cybersecurity, human capital and institutional reform.

There are only two sessions that address specific mining issues; namely electric vehicles and the battery boom, and underwater mining.

Today, Thursday, January 24th, sees a press conference on 'Cleaning up the Battery Boom'. WEF notes that the battery market is set for exponential growth, and by 2050 batteries will power an electric vehicle market worth US$2 trillion. WEF warns, however, that without deliberate intervention, this potential is undermined by social and environmental impacts as well as unexploited innovation potential along the global battery value chain.

The meeting has already had a session on underwater mining with the subheading 'Promise and Peril'. WEF noted that seabed and river mining is touted as a new source of precious metals, such as manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt. The session explored the geopolitical and ecological implications of this new technology. The speakers included Professor Douglas McCauley of the University of California, and Goldcorp Inc.'s CEO, David Garofalo.

In the absence of any senior officials from the US, perhaps the most notable address at this year's event, so far, was a message from China that fears of an economic slowdown are overblown. China's Vice President Wang Qishan said on Wednesday that the country's growth remains substantial, and that it is important for China to focus on the long term. He told delegates "There will be a lot of uncertainties in 2019, but something that is certain is that China's growth will continue and will be sustainable".

Wang takes a glass-half-full view, and described last year's growth in Chinese GDP of 6.6% as "a pretty significant number; not low, at all." The Communist Party, he said, is "trying to remind people that speed does matter, but what really matters for the time being is the quality and efficiency" of development. That thought alone is worth a sip of whisky tomorrow evening.

Chris Hinde

Chief Commentator, Mining Beacon

Previously editorial director of Mining Journal, and more recently head of S&P Global Market Intelligence's metals and mining team, Chris is now Mining Beacon's editor-in-chief and lead commentator. He posts two blogs every week, one on Monday reviewing market conditions over the prior week, and a second on Thursday looking at issues on the global mining scene. There is also a quarterly blog on business opportunities in the sector.