Business organizations criticize Estonia's decision to miss 2025 World EXPO

EXPO 2025.
EXPO 2025. Source: Japan Association for the 2025 World EXPO

The Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Estonian Employers' Confederation has sent an appeal to government ministers, in which they are highly critical of the decision for Estonia to not participate in the 2025 EXPO World Expo in Japan, as well as the way the whole process has been handled at the national level.

Both organizations believe Estonia still has a chance to participate in the World Expo as part of a joint exhibition alongside Latvia and Lithuania.

"There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the conditions under which Estonia would be able to participate, or what the concept of Estonia's participation has been. It is also unclear how and why it came to a situation, where instead of a separate pavilion, Estonia was offered the opportunity to participate in a joint pavilion with Latvia and Lithuania, which, as far as we know, is still a possibility, but which Estonia has decided against.

According to the information we have, participating in a joint pavilion would still be a realistic solution and better than staying away from EXPO altogether. As far as we know, the Nordic countries will also participate with a joint pavilion," said Mait Palts, director general of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Arto Aas, CEO of the Estonian Employers' Confederation.

According to Palts and Aas, it is still important for Estonia, as a small country, especially given the current geopolitical situation, to use every opportunity to make itself more visible and tell its own story.

"We also underscore, that raising a country's profile is not just about directly promoting its entrepreneurs or building business links, but is much broader, encompassing cultural as well as diplomatic ties, as well as building and strengthening them. This has also been the case with the World Expositions, which cannot be seen solely in terms of their commercial components. By showcasing Estonian culture, history, people and literature at world exhibitions, we are helping to create a positive image of Estonia, and while this may not at first glance seem to have a direct link to business, it undeniably plays a supporting role."

According to Palts and Aas, in today's context, it is important to weigh up both the benefits of participating and the potential negatives of Estonia's absence from the EXPO.

"As far as we know, Estonia would be the only EU Member State not participating in the EXPO. The number of countries that do not participate is known to be very small, and we do not want to be identified with them. In light of this, I think we have to agree with those who believe that non-participation would significantly weaken the positive ties previously developed with Japan."

Palts and Aasa also believe that Estonia's participation should be reconsidered, and be in the form of joint pavilion with Latvia and Lithuania, something both countries are known to be prepared for.

Regardless of whether Estonia participates in the next EXPO, the business organizations say that the entire decision-making process for participation in future world exhibitions requires a much more systematic approach.

"In our opinion, it is extremely negative that after such a long time, there is still a lot of uncertainty in this process. This has also been the case in this particular instance. State-level indecisiveness and broken promises have a negative impact on Estonia's international reputation and credibility."

Palts and Aas added, that as far as they know, Estonia ought have submitted a formal application to participate in Pavilion B at the Osaka EXPO before December 31, 2021. However, applications were only submitted to the EXPO Secretariat for the first time on June 8, 2022 and then again on January 10, 2023.

"If this is true, then it is an extremely regrettable situation, which should not have happened. /.../ In the light of the above, believe that it would be necessary to convene a debate involving the relevant ministries and stakeholders and agree on a principled decision-making process, with responsible parties and deadlines, in the context of the participation in subsequent world exhibitions. This would ensure a proper, well thought-out and timely process as well as its transparency both nationally and internationally, and make it possible to avoid situations similar to the current one, from occurring in the future."

The next EXPO will be held from April 13 to October 13, 2025 in Osaka, Japan.

The 155 hectare exhibition area will be housed on Yumeshima, an artificial island, which is currently under construction.

On June 8, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said, that the government had listened to the reasons given by Minister of Economic Affairs and Information Technology Tiit Riisalo (Eesti 200) as to why Estonia should not participate in the 2025 EXPO World Expo in Japan, and decided to take them into account. As a result, the decision was made that Estonia will not go to the EXPO.

"Tiit Riisalo outlined the reasoning behind the decision. We, in the cabinet, took that on board. The decision is, that Estonia will not go to the EXPO," Kallas told a government press conference at that time.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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