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Climate activist Greta Thunberg, who attended the conference, joined a group of about 50 demonstrators, some of whose signs read, “Stop (f)lying to us.” Elsewhere, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said talks on the next phase of the U.S.-China trade deal will begin “in the near future,” and that Beijing will waive some tariffs as part of a deal to buy an additional US$200 billion in American products. (Reuters)

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Talking point: This year’s conference has been widely framed as a contest between U.S. President Donald Trump and Thunberg (including by this reporter), and climate-change concerns dominated the WEF’s annual global risk list. But the biggest environmental promise to emerge from the event was a WEF initiative to plant one trillion trees, backed financially by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne. Thunberg said that isn’t enough on its own to have an impact. The WEF’s International Business Council said an unspecified number of its members—including accounting majors Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG—had agreed to adopt a new reporting system for their employment standards and environmental impact. But critics say trees and transparency won’t make up for the likely effects on emissions of major economic developments, like the trade deal on which Mnuchin’s working.

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The deputy prime minister will attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees—of which she is a member—on Friday. Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains told reporters on a call from Davos, Switzerland that he’d met with executives from automakers Volvo and Mitsubishi; chemical company Dow; U.S. telecom giant Verizon; and Indian IT consulting firms Tata Consultancy Services and Tech Mahindra. (The Logic)

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Talking point: Though the Prime Minister’s Office told The Logic earlier this month that neither he nor Freeland would not be attending, Freeland’s office said the Davos trip, announced Thursday morning, did not represent a change in her schedule. Meanwhile, the entries on Bains’s Davos dance card fit his reported agenda of promoting a 50 per cent corporate tax cut for firms creating emissions-reduction technology. He told reporters that, in meetings, he’d highlighted Ottawa’s funding programs for cleantech, including Sustainable Development Technology Canada and the Strategic Innovation Fund, and said they “will be seeing [the tax measure] enacted very soon to to help with their future investment decisions.” Some Canadian cleantech executives have expressed concern that the benefits of the policy would flow to companies in existing carbon-intensive sectors using technology to reduce emissions, since many domestic startups don’t have meaningful profits to tax.

Correction: The name of the Ottawa program is Sustainable Development Technology Canada. This item has been updated.

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French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are doubling down on efforts to reach an agreement over the European country’s digital tax on large tech firms, after the Trump administration said it unfairly targets U.S. companies and threatened to levy a 100 per cent tariff on French wine and other products. The leaders will meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos later this month, where they plan to settle the dispute if they haven’t by then. (Financial Times)

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Talking point: Some French companies have warned the new sanctions would make them unsustainable in the U.S., and Le Maire, who called the sanctions “unfriendly, inappropriate and illegitimate,” said France will dispute the sanctions with the World Trade Organization if the U.S. follows through. The federal Liberals proposed a similar three per cent digital tax on big tech companies during their successful election campaign last fall. Even if France decides to walk back its tax scheme—it has not indicated it will—the U.S. will inevitably have to abide by a similar digital tax that the OECD plans to introduce. The proposed law would let countries levy their own tax rate, agreed to by OECD members, on foreign companies without a physical presence in their jurisdiction. Once passed, France has said it will replace its own digital tax with OECD’s.

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World Economic Forum programming has so-far been filled with optimistic panels speaking generally about tech’s potential to transform the world for good. However, they have yet to address the growing international techlash or the ongoing trade tensions between China and the U.S. over technology. Canadian tech was featured amidst the optimism, with RBC and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan talking up how they use AI and blockchain. (Financial Times)

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Talking point: Davos is one of the world’s most elite networking events, meant to bring powerful people together to discuss tough issues. For example, one panel featured Alfred Kelly, CEO of Visa, and Ken Hau, a deputy chairman of Huawei, yet did not mention Meng’s arrest in Vancouver or Visa’s legal troubles in China. Those difficult topics are being discussed behind the scenes, particularly between U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators, who are meeting on the sidelines to resolve their ongoing trade war. Legislators across the world—including in Canada—are calling for tougher laws around antitrust and data privacy. Topics that the Davos crowd felt safe to discuss more explicitly, however, included Prince William on mental health and Angela Merkel defending the multilateral post-World War II global order.

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The federal government is backing the global payment firm’s plans for a Vancouver-based research and innovation centre with a $49-million subsidy from its Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF). Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains told reporters in a conference call from Davos, Switzerland Thursday that the centre will create “good-quality jobs that will enable Canadians to be able to navigate more safely and securely”; it’s expected to create 270 jobs by 2029. (The Logic, The Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: Ottawa has been trying to close the gap in foreign direct investment levels—which have recovered from 2017, which saw significant divestment from oil and gas, but remain below the early 2010s—by courting global companies to establish themselves in Canada. The Logic’s analysis from February found that over 50 per cent of the initial $951 million awarded by the SIF went to foreign subsidiaries, despite the fund being advertised as a way for Canadian companies to scale and grow globally. In June 2019, the government launched a fifth stream of the $2.51-billion fund with no industry or subject-area restrictions. Currently, the centre is home to NuData Security, a small biometric- identification business Mastercard purchased in 2017.

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At a press conference before leaving the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the U.S. president said he wants an agreement before the vote, scheduled for November 3. Accompanied by World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Roberto Azevêdo, he also promised a “very dramatic” change to the organization. (The Wall Street Journal)

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Talking point: Trump has threatened tariffs on European auto imports if the continent doesn’t make a deal on trade, a bargaining tactic he’s used against China as well as Canada and Mexico. His administration has also blocked appointments to the WTO’s appeals court over claims that the U.S. doesn’t get fair trials there, effectively rendering it unable to function. Canada has led an international effort to come up with reforms, and International Trade Minister Mary Ng is chairing a meeting of the group in Davos this week. Trump’s negotiations with Azevêdo—who he said will shortly visit Washington, D.C. for talks—circumvent that process. Trump also spent 30 minutes with over 30 tech executives gathered on Wednesday morning. Apple CEO Tim Cook—whom the president recently criticized over encryption—and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty reportedly pushed for the White House to expand access to skills training.