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OPINION

Dubai Expo: Deals in the desert

The event was a showcase for both sustainability and trade agreements.

A general view of Dubai Expo 2020, in Dubai
A view of Dubai Expo 2020. Photo: Reuters

Sustainability is not usually the first word that springs to mind when considering Dubai. However, the desert oasis built with revenues from oil and known for its excess – the world’s biggest mall, tallest building and largest Ferris wheel – is now firmly aboard the green bandwagon.

At Dubai Expo, sustainability abounds. The aptly named Surreal water feature reuses its water, the many recycling bins around the site “thank you” when you use them, and numerous exhibitions help visitors “explore humankind’s relationship with nature, our obsession with excessive consumerism, and how we can change our everyday choices to reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact”.

There are many more surreal features of Expo 2020 – not least the fact that, due to Covid, it’s taken place in 2021 and 2022. Beyond the greenwashing in the sustainability district, there is the mobility district – home to the Russian pavilion, where “creative minds drive the future” – which will make a welcome change from driving tanks into Ukraine. There is also the opportunity district, home to a pavilion on innovators named The Good Place. Wasn’t that a TV show with Ted Danson about hell?

Plastered everywhere are slogans such as Connecting Minds, Creating the Future, carefully designed to make Expo a showcase of Dubai’s modernity, its openness to innovation and business.

Foreign investment

The goal, announced in 2021, is to attract $150 billion in foreign investment to reposition Dubai as a global business and finance hub. With a series of conferences at the Expo convention centre, Dubai hopes for big trade and business deals.

So far, trade agreements have been made with countries including Indonesia, Israel, Colombia, the Philippines and the UK – no doubt eager for deals post-Brexit. A pact with India will cut duties on almost 90% of goods traded between the two countries, a step expected to enhance trade relationships and double non-oil trade to at least $100 billion over five years.

But it isn’t all hard work. Many visitors seemed most impressed with the South Korean pavilion, which clearly understood how to engage with the Expo audience by making an avatar of every visitor. Keep it simple…

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