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How Trump's 'America First' Message Is Playing Out With International Elite

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump is taking his America First message to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week. It's an awkward juxtaposition - a president wary of trade deals there to convince world leaders and global business execs to invest in the United States. The president speaks on Friday. Top officials in his administration have already addressed the forum.

To hear how their message is playing with the international elite in Davos, we have called Nariman Behravesh. He's chief economist at IHS Markit, and he is there in Davos. Hi there.

NARIMAN BEHRAVESH: Hi there.

KELLY: Hi. I'll start with today's news, which is that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is also in Davos, said there today - and I'll quote - "a weak dollar is good for America." Well, ask, and you shall receive. The dollar immediately hit a three-year low. How's that playing in Davos?

BEHRAVESH: Well, I think it's got a lot of people here a little nervous because the dollar, as you say, has been already weakening. It's been weakening really over the past year. And what the treasury secretary did was kind of pushed it down further. And I think people are a little worried that it might sort of end up destabilizing exchange markets, so that's a bit of a concern on top of, you know, all the other concerns about, what does America First really mean in the end? But the concern here is a destabilized foreign exchange market.

KELLY: You said people in Davos and people all over are trying to figure out exactly what an America First economic policy means. What - how do you understand it?

BEHRAVESH: Well - and here's where the problem is. We're getting very mixed signals from American officials. As you know, the U.S. recently raised tariffs on washing machines and solar panels. And Mr. Trump said this is not a trade war. But then his commerce secretary, Mr. Ross, here today essentially said, we are already in a trade war. So there you've got a contradiction.

And then Mr. Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, said, oh, no, no, you know, America First does not mean we're going to be trying to hurt other economies. We just want to do well for our own people. So a lot of very mixed messages, and I think people are confused here.

KELLY: You know, it's interesting because this is one of the largest delegations the U.S. has sent to Davos. On the other hand, the U.S. is pulling back from the world stage in ways economic and otherwise. Is the U.S. as much in the spotlight as it has been in years past at this forum?

BEHRAVESH: It's very clear that Mr. Trump's coming to Davos has stolen pretty much everybody else's thunder. Everybody's talking about him. What is he going to say? I mean, that's the question I and others get asked, you know, that are from the U.S. all the time in the last few days. So in that sense, he clearly is dominating. There's no question about it.

KELLY: Nariman Behravesh, thanks so much for taking the time.

BEHRAVESH: My pleasure.

KELLY: Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit - he joined us from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.