In a strong defense of his “America First” policies, U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday told a gathering of global business and political luminaries that the world would benefit from U.S. economic power and invited them to embrace his growth-oriented philosophy.
“When the United States grows, so does the world,” he said in a 15-minute speech to the closing session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“America is open for business and we are competitive once again,” he said.
As he has done throughout his political career, Trump made no apology for imposing reciprocal tariffs and tearing up trade deals and other international agreements that he sees as slowing economic growth.
WATCH: Trump Warns Rivals About Trade Practices in Davos Speech
“We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others. We support free trade, but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal,” he said. “Because, in the end, unfair trade undermines us all.”
The “America First” philosophy provoked criticism among many at Davos who advocate a coordinated global economic strategy. Without naming the United States, Brazilian President Michel Temer used his Davos address Wednesday to express opposition to what he saw as anti-free-trade rhetoric coming from world capitals.
WATCH: Trump Says America First Does Not Mean America Alone
“We know all too well that we live in a world where isolation trends are gaining ground. However, we also know that protectionism is not a solution,” Temer said.
His sentiments were echoed by other Davos speakers, including the leaders of India, Italy and Canada.
But in his remarks Friday, Trump stood his ground, saying Washington would “no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices, including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies and pervasive state-led economic planning.”
Without naming offending countries, he pledged to fight what he called “predatory behaviors” that distort global markets and harm businesses and workers.
Economists from both the left and the right had harsh words for Trump’s tilt toward protectionism.
David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan group in Washington that studies government’s effects on the economy, said Trump’s moves to cut taxes while imposing tariffs send a contradictory message to America’s trading partners.
“The tax cut is a signal that the country is open for business, but tariffs show we’re closed for business, so the man is giving mixed signals to the world,” Williams said.
Veronique de Rugy, a fellow at the Mercatus Institute, a free-markets-oriented research group in Washington affiliated with George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, called Trump’s policies of reciprocity “misguided.”
“There’s no denying that foreign companies subsidize heavily their companies, but so do we, and we shouldn’t be so worried about this because they’re hurting their own economies by doing this,” de Rugy told VOA. “We shouldn’t be following them.”
In his speech, Trump also appealed to other countries to participate more fully with the United States on shared security goals, including defeating Islamic State militants, applying maximum pressure to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and combating terrorism in all its forms.
“My administration is proud to have led historic efforts at the United Nations Security Council and all around the world to unite all civilized nations in our campaign of maximum pressure to denuke the Korean Peninsula,” Trump said. “We continue to call on partners to confront Iran’s support for terrorists and block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.”
In a brief question-and-answer session after his speech, Trump took aim at one of his favorite targets, the media. “It wasn’t until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be,” he said, drawing boos and scattered applause from the audience.
Trump also criticized the opposition Democratic Party, claiming its regulation-oriented policies would have stunted economic growth.
“Had the opposing party to me won — some of whom you backed, some of the people in the room — instead of being up almost 50 percent, the stock market … would’ve been down close to 50 percent,” Trump said. “They were going to put on massive new regulations.”
Some Davos elites were reported to have planned to boycott Trump’s speech, but journalists attending the forum said no absence was noticeable. Pool reports said the hall was filled to capacity by the time Trump took the stage.
Reporters in the room, however, noted several pointed rebukes to Trump’s policies in the hall. As the stage was being set for his speech, a large screen behind the podium showed a video that included clips of the anti-Trump Women’s March and scenes related to climate change. At one point, the narrator talked about the importance of “not building walls.”
Many Davos attendees and observers described the president’s economic stance as both chauvinist and protectionist. British scholar H.A. Hellyer, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said Trump’s braggadocio does not play well in much of the world.
“If he were a little more slick about it, he’d probably have a lot more play within a place like Davos, but he doesn’t. I’m not sure he got much there, and I’m not sure how much Davos got out of him either,” Hellyer said.