With one year to go until the gates open to the biggest international event ever to take place in the Middle East, the Dubai Expo 2020 site is rapidly taking shape.
After six years of planning and construction, Expo 2020 passed a major milestone on 15 September when cranes lifted into place the huge steel crown that tops the giant dome of Wasl Plaza, the central hub of Expo 2020.
Three weeks earlier on 25 August, an equally significant landmark was reached when construction commenced on the first national pavilion superstructures.
The national pavilions are arguably the most important element of the expo. With 192 countries attending, the pavilions provide countries with a unique opportunity to showcase to the world the best they have to offer.
The carefully designed structures are also installations that project national identity and provide a destination for visitors, events and high-level delegations. Naturally, there is fierce competition to have the best pavilion.
One of the first countries to begin building its pavilion was Finland. Called ‘Snow Cape’, Finland’s pavilion resembles a futuristic Bedouin tent covered in snow. Its design represents the fusion of Nordic and Arabic cultures. Its sleek white-cube superstructure is slashed across its front face with a full-height tent-like entrance. It is a confident statement, but not brash. Exactly the image the Finns are keen to project.
With a population of only 5 million people, Finland is one of the smallest countries building its own pavilion at Expo 2020. But, while small in demographic terms, Finland punches above its weight in international business. It is a leading player in technology, telecoms and the paper and pulp industries, and is also prominent in smart energy, smart cities and water services. Most famously, Finland is home to telecoms giant Nokia, whose huge international presence is set to grow in the coming years as investment in 5G telecoms networks takes off. It is also the home of more than 300 games developers including Angry Birds creator Rovio.
Finland has an equally prolific industrial sector. It is home to Kone, whose elevators and escalators are found around the world, and whose innovations are transforming urban mobility. Engineering giant Wartsila is a global leader in smart technologies and marine and energy lifecycle solutions, while Metso is a leading provider of mining and quarrying equipment and services.
As an aside, Finland has ranked first in the world for the past two years in the UN Happiness Report.
With 100 Finnish companies participating in Expo 2020, including 40 partner companies, Finland is aiming to make a big impact at the event.
Helsinki has identified Dubai Expo 2020 as a key opportunity to increase Finland’s presence not only in the UAE, but to promote Finnish technology, services and industrial goods globally. Led by its trade promotion agency, Business Finland, the Finnish government is putting considerable resources into making the most of the expo.
About 40 per cent of Finland’s GDP derived from exports, so Helsinki is a keen proponent of an open flow of goods, services, capital and intellectual property. “Finland is an export-oriented economy, so the trade dimension is highly important to Finland,” says Petri Peltonen, undersecretary of state at Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs & Employment, and the chairman of Finland’s Expo 2020 steering committee. “Finland is very much connected to global trade flows and Expo 2020 is a tool to promote business, investment, trade and our country.”
Despite its focus on exports, Finland’s trade with the GCC is relatively small with exports to the UAE of about e242.4m ($267.1m) a year and a mere e12.6m of imports in the other direction. Peltonen expects economic links to grow significantly following the recent introduction of Fly Dubai flights between Helsinki and Dubai.
Peltonen describes Finland’s Expo 2020 mission as a “public-private partnership”, with the costs of the mission split equally between the government and its private sector partners.
“Our decision to join Expo 2020 depended on the commitment of private enterprise,” he says. “And 50 per cent of the expenditure is coming from private enterprise.”
The Finnish pavilion will ultimately host a diverse array of companies that Business Finland believes will highlight themes that tie in closely to the objectives of Dubai and the region.
“There are a lot of environment-related topics, such as waste-to-energy and water,” says Peltonen. “In addition to education and healthcare.”
Future expo organisers will also be interested to know the thinking behind Finland’s decision to participate in Expo 2020, as it was not an automatic choice. Finland did not take part in the 2015 expo in Milan.
“The expo concept is under pressure,” says Severi Keinala, commissioner general for Finland at Expo 2020. “The concept was launched over 150 years ago when there was no internet and international travel was slow and expensive. Today we are a fully digital economy. We can fly.
“Dubai Expo is something different,” he says. “Dubai has revitalised the Expo concept. It is serving the needs of visitors and member states and companies are seeing it change. It is more about business-to-business than ever.”
“Also, at other expo sites, the site is unused,” says Keinala. “The UAE is fully committed to the legacy of Dubai.”
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