Chamber of commerce: Osaka Expo business contributions would need clarity

Estonian pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai.
Estonian pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai. Source:

The criticism of the government's decision not to participate in the Osaka World Expo by business organizations opens the question of how much money businesses are willing to contribute. In an interview with ERR, Mait Palts, the head of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ECCI), said that until Estonia's concept has been finalized, it is difficult to approach businesses for funding.

The Estonian Employers' Confederation (Eesti Tööandjate Keskliit) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ECCI) petitioned the government to reconsider its decision not to attend the Osaka World Expo.

Decisions have been delayed for both the Dubai World Expo and the Osaka World Expo. The application for the use of the principal pavilion at the Osaka World Expo was due on December 31, 2021; however, the initial application was submitted in June 2022, and the supplementary application was submitted on January 10, 2023. Is the decision-making procedure incredibly perplexing?

Yes, this is unfortunate; indeed, previous world exhibitions did not proceed without incident.

The real question is who is responsible for the budget planning for World Expo participation. Neither the Ministry of Economic Affairs nor the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology has the required funds.

As it turns out, nobody is responsible. It is time to resolve these matters, given the continuous confusion. Let's be honest: we do not question Estonia's participation in the Olympics every four years.

Perhaps the government's decision was based on understanding that there was no funds for World Expo participation. 2025 is not far away, and spending would almost certainly be required immediately. The Expo has been ignored, and now no one wants to spend their reserves on it.

It appears that no monies were planned when the formal decision to participate was made last year. And in this situation, the new minister [Tiit Riisalo] realized he lacked the motivation to find the finances and changed his strategy.

In actuality, the entire government should have been debating the issue and making an informed decision. Given the World Expo's troubled status, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications should not be fully responsible for funding it.

Estonia's involvement, according to Minister of Economic Affairs Tiit Riisalu (Reform), will cost the state around € 5 million. Is this sum intended for an event in which we have our own pavilion, or is this an amount for sharing a pavilion with Lithuania and Latvia?

We have not seen the exact calculation; there are different numbers floating around.

There has also been talk of €3 to € 4 million, and in the case of the large pavilion, up to €7 million.

Participation in the big pavilion is probably no longer an issue. Estonia initially wanted to participate in the Big Pavilion, where demand was highest, but the application was probably not submitted in time and it is no longer possible to participate there.

Now we are talking about whether we could still manage to participate in a joint pavilion with the other Baltic states. There, the participation fee would be significantly lower.

Some say that international exhibitions are an outdated method of showcasing their country and its people. Many people attend these expos, but Estonia does not immediately benefit from them. Other means of promotion are more effective...

Each World Expo is bound to have a little bit of its own character or national face. The Dubai EXPO was clearly business-oriented, and entrepreneurs benefited greatly from the attendance. And, looking back at other World Expos, we can't say they were useless.

But it all boils down to the fact that the sooner we intend to engage, the better the outcome.

Also, it is extremely important for a small country to show itself. We might think that Estonia is well-known in Japan and Asia, but this is absolutely not the case.

Could it be the responsibility of the EAS and the Kredex to decide whether to participate?  And with a budget line to match?

This is what should be discussed now, but it is still a nationally significant event and participation could be a political decision. When the location of the next World Expo is chosen, Estonia's participation, or the terms under which it will participate, should be carefully assessed based on a set of criteria. Finding the final sponsor and organizer of Estonia's participation is a bit of a technical task. The administration should make a major decision really soon.

Have you heard from your sister organizations in Latvia and Lithuania about whether they are going to Japan at all if Estonia does not?

Yeas, their participation is guaranteed. And they have assured us that they will be together in the pavilion even if Estonia does not come.

We asked our southern neighbors whether this sharing option would still be available if Estonia decided to participate and we received a positive reply.

So Latvia-Lithuania are unquestionably going; the issue is how they will name the pavilion if only two of the three Baltic states are represented.

How much would business organizations and enterprises be willing to contribute financially?

Entrepreneurs want to know what the Estonian concept is and what results they can expect. If these are not in place, it is difficult to go out and ask entrepreneurs for money.

At the Dubai Expo, businesses were ready for this and pledged more than the original agreement.

Considering Japan's importance and its growing importance for Estonian businesses, there must be people who are willing to invest their own funds there.

In Dubai, companies paid more than a third of the cost of participating in the exhibition.

So it is theoretically conceivable that a third of the funding will come from the private sector this time as well? Or is Japan more remote and less significant than the United Arab Emirates?

This is incredibly difficult to predict at this time; a great deal depends on the ultimate concept.

Currently, it is believed that the purpose of this exhibition is to promote Estonian culture and Estonia in general. In this case, businesses will obtain fewer tangible benefits than they would in Dubai. Consequently, enterprise interest may be somewhat diminished.

If business owners believe they can still pursue their own commercial interests, they will be more likely to join.

Estonia is farther away from Japan, and certain expenses will be higher.  Nonetheless, there is expansion potential for some businesses in the region.

Your proposal to the government remains the same: let's meet again, discuss, and at the very least participate with the Latvians and Lithuanians in a common pavilion?

There are no reasons why we should not go there, and if we were to not participate, the Baltic Pavilion would be significantly worse off.

Clearly, there are negative effects of opting out and our Japanese colleagues have made this clear.

We are the only European Union member state that would be excluded from the World Expo and this should be taken into account when determining the direct financial cost or benefit.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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