Politicians critical of economics minister's decision to skip EXPO 2025

  • 2023-06-12
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Many politicians are critical of Estonia's decision not to participate in the next World Expo in Japan in 2025, but according to Minister of Economic Affairs and Information Technology Tiit Riisalo, participation is not reasonable under the conditions offered to us, Postimees reported on Monday.

The chairman of the working group for the EXPO in the Riigikogu, Reform Party MP Andres Sutt, told Postimees that the EXPO is an important event for every host country, and the participation or non-participation of someone will not go unnoticed.

"EXPO also has a foreign political dimension to it that is wider than economic relations," Sutt said. "Japan is Estonia's number two trade partner in Asia, investment companies there have invested in our tech companies. Europe's largest deep technology investment fund entailing Japanese ownership, which invests in Northern Europe, is also managed from Estonia. Japan is a member of the G7 and a weighty force in the region to balance China," the former Minister of Entrepreneurship and IT said. 

Sutt said that in order to avoid last-minute debates on whether or not to participate in the future, it is important to agree that Estonia will participate in  EXPOs and to determine which ministry is responsible for the preparations.

"The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications makes the most sense to take on this leadership role," Sutt said. "What are the focus topics for participating in a particular EXPO depends on the location of the host country and Estonia's interests in the region."

Juri Ratas, chairman of the Center Party and a member of the working group, described the news about the EXPO in Japan as a bad signal for our entrepreneurs and relations with Japan.

The chairman of the Riigikogu foreign affairs committee, Reform Party MP Marko Mihkelson, called the situation regrettable because Estonia is currently the only EU member state not to participate in the 2025 EXPO.

"The foreign affairs committee of the Riigikogu discussed this in two sessions in May and by consensus proposed to the government to consider participation. We now know that the government decided not to participate," Mihkelson told Postimees.

He noted that Japan is a strategically important partner country for Estonia, and as a member of the G7, it influences global security and economic policy decisions. Our goal should be to use all opportunities to deepen bilateral relations with Japan.

"Participating in an international event of importance to Japan, which EXPO definitely is, would have undoubtedly been a remarkable step in this context. Estonia will never be so big or well-known that we can have the luxury of skipping the chance of presenting ourselves to the world, including through the EXPO, and it is especially important to do so in today's turbulent world. The Nordic countries will have a joint pavilion in Osaka, as do Latvia and Lithuania. Estonia could still have had the opportunity to collaborate in the Baltic format. And our companies have been interested in participating in the Osaka EXPO," the MP said.

According to Mihkelson, the joint institution of Enterprise Estonia and Kredex estimated in August 2022 that if Estonia participates in the Osaka EXPO, the country will receive about 130 million euros more in direct investments from Japan until 2030, and this, in turn, is expected to help create at least 500 jobs. The tourism sector would earn around 11 million euros of additional income between 2026 and 2030, and Estonia's total export income would be nearly 700 million euros higher than before.

"The EXPO is not obsolete, just like the song festival and the Olympics are not obsolete. The organizer of EXPO 2030 will be chosen soon, and together with the statement of support, Estonia could already make a decision on participation," Mihkelson said.

"In what regards the cost, Estonia is no poorer now than we used to be when we participated in EXPOs for three decades. The thing is rather that the decision to participate is currently, strangely enough, too strongly linked to the area of administration of a single minister or ministry and largely depends on the personality of the minister rather than on long-term strategic planning. In order to avoid embarrassing confusion and the accompanying diplomatic damage in the future, Estonia's participation in EXPOs should be decided at the government level long in advance and a specific host agency, so to speak, with a budget should be appointed for this purpose, in order to avoid getting caught in political whirlwinds. After all, we never argue before the Olympics whether the minister of culture has the money or not to support Estonia's participation."

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said at Thursday's government press conference that the minister of entrepreneurship and technology had given an overview of the reasons for his decision.

"We took note that there is such a decision that Estonia will not go to the EXPO," Kallas said.

According to Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas, from the Estonia 200 party, the reasons given by Riisalo, who also comes from Estonia 200, why participation in the EXPO does not make sense under the conditions offered to Estonia were understandable.

"It certainly doesn't mean that the direction of Asia or Japan is somehow unimportant to us, on the contrary. But you always need to look at these conditions and proportions," Regional Affairs Minister Madis Kallas, from the Social Democratic Party, said.

EXPO 2025 will be held in Osaka, Japan, from April to October next year.