President Donald Trump told a gathering of government and business leaders that "'America First' does not mean America alone," striking a largely conciliatory tone after what have at times been strained relations between the U.S. and its key global allies and trading partners.
"I am here today to represent the interests of the American people, and to affirm America's friendship and partnership in building a better world," Mr. Trump told a packed hall of about 1,600 at the World Economic Forum. He talked up the U.S. economy and said there "has never been a better time" for business to invest in the country.
Mr. Trump's brand of nationalism, especially on trade—the U.S. slapped tariffs on washing-machine and solar-panel imports this week and is renegotiating two key trade pacts—is at odds with the free-trade globalism espoused by the elites who gather at the annual extravaganza in the Alps.
Earlier in the week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had warned that "protectionism and its forces are rearing their heads." But in his speech, Mr. Trump portrayed the U.S. as a willing partner for other countries. He said the U.S. pursuit of what it views as fair trade deals is good not just for America, but for the global trading system. Mr. Trump also said the U.S. was open to joining a new version of the Pacific Rim trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, if it is in the interests of all members, after exiting from the TPP and targeting it in the past as the epitome of the sort of trade deal that disadvantages the U.S.
Mr. Trump and his "America First" message have evoked skepticism among many at the annual conference, which offers world leaders and wealthy executives the opportunity to hobnob—a practice the president decried during his 2016 campaign.
Earlier this week, the 11 remaining members of the Pacific Rim trading bloc announced they had reached agreement to move forward without the U.S. and suggested it was a response to Mr. Trump's "America First" approach.
What remains unclear is how serious the Trump administration is to re-engaging in TPP talks, and how open the trading partners would be to the U.S., and on what terms.
Mr. Trump received only muted applause after wrapping up his speech and a subsequent question and answer session. The crowd loudly booed when he criticised the news media as "vicious" and "mean."
Early reaction to Mr. Trump's speech was mixed. Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads Pope Francis' initiatives on migration and the environment, said: "I was glad to hear him say it is 'America First' but not America alone. It begins to seem that they're thinking about the whole world."
But Renat Heuberger, chief executive of Swiss environmental group South Pole, was critical of Mr. Trump's speech. "It's a disaster," he said. "What he's calling for is global egoism. It's the survival of the fittest. … He believes that by destroying the environment, business will thrive. That will create jobs in the short term, but in the long term it will crash."
U.S. officials in Davos this week have sought to stress a U.S. commitment to partnerships with other nations. This comes after a first year in office in which Mr. Trump worked to reverse or rework America's relationship with trading partners, arguing that doing so would boost U.S. economic interests. Mr. Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions, and has reopened talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.