The US will have a presence at Expo 2020, despite failing to secure funding, after the UAE agreed to pay for its pavilion.
The US State Department praised “the generosity of the Emirati government” after it stepped in with a bailout to ensure the world’s richest and most powerful country would not have to miss the Dubai event, which begins in October.
American participation had been in doubt due to a law, passed in the 1990s, which prevents public funds being used for Expos. In the past, businesses have met the bill, but despite a lobbying effort led by Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, the US failed to attract enough private funding for Dubai. Legislative efforts to get around the rules proved unsuccessful.
It is not yet known how much money the UAE will provide to the US. However, it is understood that the original design of the US pavilion, which was estimated to cost $60 million (Dh220m) will be changed, not least because of time pressures with the opening of the event just nine months away.
Expo 2020 pavilions
Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council, blamed the dysfunctional political situation and partisanship in Washington DC for the failure of the US to pay for its own pavilion but said he was relieved and grateful that the UAE had rescued the situation.
“The problems with funding weren’t anything specific to Expo or the UAE, but with the political situation, the impeachment process and the general inability for various political factions to work together,” he said.
“On the flip side, it was very clear that the biggest show in the world could not occur without a US pavilion. There had to be some kind of a credible, quality US pavilion at Expo 2020 and the Emiratis decided they had to do what was necessary to work with the US to make that happen. There just weren’t any other options or alternatives.”
The US State Department would be “100 per cent” in charge of the pavilion, Mr Sebright said, with the UAE government to offer support and assistance “as appropriate”.
He said: “All of the American institutions and partners in the UAE, like the US-UAE Business Council and others, who have been working on this project for so many years, are relieved and incredibly grateful that it looks like the US pavilion will finally move forward in a credible and high-quality way. We are so very appreciative that the UAE government has stepped forward in a very constructive and positive manner to help us.”
The US government had feared losing influence if it failed to participate in the Expo, which rivals such as China planning to spend tens of millions at an event that it is estimated 25 million people will attend.
A failure to attract private funding was largely explained by the situation at Expo 2015 in Milan, when the US consortium set up to run its pavilion went bankrupt and contractors went unpaid, attracting negative publicity. This meant American businesses were put off helping this time.
An attempt to change the law to allow public funding to be used passed the House of Representatives, but stalled in the US Senate, meaning it did not become law.
Since a last-ditch attempt to secure public funding through end-of-year spending bill failed in December, behind the scenes discussions about alternative options have been taking place in Washington.
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In a statement, the US State Department said Expos were “significant opportunities to showcase American freedom, ideals, enterprise, culture, and global leadership.”
It added: “The US pavilion is made possible by the generosity of the Emirati government in recognition of the strong partnership between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
“Importantly, the American private sector will have a golden opportunity to showcase its creativity and innovation, as well as pursue business partnerships and new markets with corporate leaders from around the world.
“The Department is dedicated to developing an exciting U.S. pavilion at Expo 2020 with an exhibition that engages visitors from around the world to learn more about the United States and the freedom that enables success and innovation.”
A spokesman for Expo 2020 welcomed the development.
“We welcome today’s confirmation that the United States of America will have a pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai,” he said.
“The USA has a long tradition of involvement in World Expos, both as a participant and as host, and we look forward to the continuation of this in Dubai.
“We are working closely with our American colleagues, and are confident that the USA Pavilion will be a fantastic part of the Expo experience that will be enjoyed by millions when the event opens in October this year. The US plays a leading role, globally, in innovation and ingenuity. We look forward to seeing this on display at Expo 2020, the world’s greatest showcase of human brilliance and achievement.”