Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

US 'woefully late' with Expo 2020 plans amid cash trouble

New ambassador John Rakolta asks American companies to lend their ‘muscle and financial strength’ to deliver the pavilion

The design for the $60 million US pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai, as revealed last year. The new design will probably be changed to cut costs in a bid to secure funding. USA Expo
The design for the $60 million US pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai, as revealed last year. The new design will probably be changed to cut costs in a bid to secure funding. USA Expo

The United States is “woefully late” with its plans for Expo 2020 and it remains possible that the world’s largest superpower will not have a pavilion at the Dubai event, a US diplomat has said.

American business leaders and companies based in the Emirates will be urged to help, said John Rakolta Jr, the new US Ambassador to the UAE.

Dubai Expo 2020 is less than a year away, yet funding for a US presence is still not in place.

The House of Representatives recently passed a law that would allow state department funds to be allocated to support a US pavilion.

With less than a year to go America is woefully late to the table and there is still some risk that we will have no pavilion at Expo 2020

Danny Sebright, US-UAE Business Council

But it must first be passed by the Senate, then approved by US President Donald Trump – and there are no guarantees it will become law.

“We are up against the wire,” said Mr Rakolta, who has been in his post for three weeks. “I am confident that Congress will ultimately pass some legislation that will allow us to proceed.

“Our involvement is clearly now in the hands of the US Congress. We’re a democratic and free country and every senator and congressman has a mind of their own. What we can do is work in a way to convince them and show them how important this is.

“We have to export and spread our democracy, our freedom, our way of life, our cultural values, our technology, our business, our security, our strength. There’s no way better way in the Middle East to do this.

“There are good positive signs this could happen. Once it does, we’ll have to really put our shoulder to the wheel and really produce something we can be proud of.”

Under a US law passed in the 1990s, public funds cannot be spent on world expositions.

The bill, currently making its way through Congress, would offer a workaround for Expo 2020, although the proposed legislation still specifies that a funding must be “matched” by the private sector or, at a minimum, topped up to the greatest extent possible.

While the bill was passed by “voice vote” in the House, timing pressures is thought to be another area of concern with the Senate in recess for the last week of November for the Thanksgiving holiday. It is then only sitting for two more weeks before its Christmas break.

Mr Rakolta Jr told representatives of US companies at a Dubai Airshow dinner that they could expect a call from him asking them to assist.

“Simply put, I need your muscle and financial strength and help,” he said.

“You can expect me to be giving each one of you a call the moment Congress passes this bill, to come and see you. I want to have a firm and hard handshake and there will be an ask.”

Implementing plans previously drawn for a US pavilion would cost $60 million (Dh220.3m), although the design could be scaled back to save money. Many other countries started constructing their pavilions months ago.

Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council, said “failings” in the US ability to promote itself abroad with soft power lay behind the current predicament.

“Our ability to demonstrate all the positive elements for which America stands can be no better accomplished in this part of the world in 2020 and 2021 than by building and hosting an American pavilion at Expo 2020,” he said.

“With less than a year to go, America is woefully late to the table and there is still some risk that we will have no pavilion at Expo 2020.”

Updated: November 19, 2019 10:36 AM

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