US pavilion secures funding for Expo 2020

19 January 2020
The US State Department had previously announced that its presence at Expo 2020 was 'in jeopardy'

The US has confirmed its participation at the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, following months of uncertainty surrounding its pavilion and operational funding.

In an official statement released on 15 January, the US State Department announced that "the US pavilion is made possible by the generosity of the Emirati government in recognition of the strong partnership between the US and the UAE", which implies that the UAE government will be footing the bill for the US participation at the event. No details were provided on the nature of the support.

The US first unveiled its plans for Expo 2020 in November 2018, announcing that corporations PepsiCo and Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO) would be official pavilion partners. PepsiCo was declared the lead sponsor and official beverage partner of Pavilion USA 2020, while VHO planned to premiere its Hyperloop ride experience at the expo.

Funding woes

Legislation in the US mandates that funding for its participation at world expos comes from contributions from corporations and states rather than from taxpayer money. A two-year fundraising effort intended to raise $60m for participation at Expo 2020 failed and, as a result, the State Department turned to Congress for help.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has appealed in the recent months to lift restrictions on public funding for US participation at international events. As reported by US news website Foreign Policy, Pompeo wrote a letter to James Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 15 October 2019, stating that "failing to participate will cede the ground to Iran, Russia and China”, and adding that China is expected to spend more than $100m in government funding at the expo.

The bill HR 4842 was introduced on 29 October 2019 to allow federal money to be spent on Expo 2020. It was passed by the House of Representatives and was sent to the Senate, but was not included by the House Appropriations Committee in the year-end spending package.

The failure to pass the bill was also seen by those in favour as worrisome for US state Minnesota's bid to host the 2027 edition of the event. The State Department's official statement on 27 December  2019 said: "The absence of this legislative provision jeopardises bids by Minneapolis and Houston to host upcoming expos, which would attract millions of visitors, billions of dollars in revenue and support tens of thousands of American jobs."

US presence at recent World Expos has suffered. There was no US pavilion at the 2000 expo in Hannover, Germany, due to a lack of private funding, while some of the non-profit companies funding the pavilion at the 2015 expo in Milan reportedly ran into financial losses. The US pavilion at the 2010 event in Shanghai also struggled, until then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton championed a successful fundraising campaign to ensure US presence.

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