Money low, so US may skip 2010 Shanghai Expo

By: By ELAINE KURTENBACH, AP Business Writer
By: By ELAINE KURTENBACH, AP Business Writer

SHANGHAI, China (AP) - Canada will have its Cirque du Soleil. France will showcase its cuisine. The United States may be a no-show.

Amid the worst recession in decades, U.S. organizers are struggling to raise $61 million for a national pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, expected to be the biggest ever.

And some observers in a city endlessly promoting an "Olympic Games of economy, science and technology" are not amused by the idea of the U.S. not coming.

"I'm sorry to say it is just unbelievable that the richest country in the world would decide to ignore the Expo," said Shen Dingli, who directs the Center of American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.

China likely would see the U.S. absence as a slap in the face - and a massive missed business opportunity. A record 70 million visitors are expected.

Just about everyone else, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, will be there - though China itself is building joint pavilions for poorer countries.

The U.S. exhibit is struggling because, unlike those of most other countries, the American exhibit must be privately funded. A 1991 U.S. law prohibits government financing of such events.

"We're doing the best we can, but we are in the midst of an economic crisis," said Ellen Eliasoph, a Beijing-based lawyer who was in Shanghai this week wooing potential sponsors of the pavilion in the American business community.

Funding commitments are needed by mid-April to break ground by April 30, the latest possible start date, Expo organizers say.

"We all know these may be the most difficult times for the U.S. now, but that surely doesn't mean they can be so stupid as to miss the chance to showcase American products to the world's biggest potential market," Shen said.

For Shanghai, the Expo is its chance to overhaul a city and show off China's dramatic change - much like Beijing did for last year's Olympics. Shanghai newspapers are counting down the days until the event.

China's business capital is rebuilding a 2-square-mile (5.3-square-kilometer) swath of former shipyards, steel mills and slums along both sides of the river that divides the city of 20 million.

Some countries are eager for an extended chance to promote themselves - from May to October 2010 - to one of the world's most enticing markets.

France appears to be the biggest Expo spender, with half its 50 million euro ($64.4 million) budget coming from its government.

Canada, teaming up with Cirque du Soleil, is kicking in 13.5 million Canadian dollars ($10.5 million) in government money.

Eliasoph, however, is counting largely on American companies for funds. She helped set up Shanghai Expo 2010, a nonprofit group authorized by the State Department to develop the U.S. exhibit.

But several major potential sponsors, including General Motors Corp., Coca-Cola Co. and IBM Corp., already have their own pavilions or sponsorship deals.

"We're pulling all of these different interests together in hopes there will be some support," Eliasoph said. "We can't do it without some core sponsors, without big, top-tier companies."

American companies that help will be remembered, a deputy Expo director, Hong Hao, recently told a U.S. business group.

Other major economies are taking this chance to open pavilions for the first time. The European Union announced last week that it will have an exhibit in Shanghai, though most likely within one of its 27 member nations' pavilions.

"The Shanghai Expo must be a success, because it should be the signal of recovery in Asia and in China. We want to be part of this," Serge Abou, the EU's ambassador to China, told reporters.

Shanghai would not be the first world expo the U.S. has missed. It sat out the 2000 Expo in Hanover, Germany, because of insufficient funding. In 2005, the U.S. pavilion at the Aichi, Japan Expo was built only with help from Japanese companies, including Toyota Motor North America.


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(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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