Deadline casts doubt over US Expo pavilion

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2009, 12:00am

Countries planning to take part in next year's Shanghai World Expo must start building their pavilions by the end of next month or change their plans, organisers told state media yesterday.

The new deadline for breaking ground casts further doubt over US participation in the international showcase event, already in question due to funding problems.

'If work on a pavilion starts after June 30 this year, it can't be completed before May 1 next year. This will affect the operation of the whole World Expo Park and support facilities,' Zhong Yanqun, deputy head of the organising bureau's executive committee, told Xinhua.

Ms Zhong's comments appear to signal a tougher stance by the bureau on participants that are dragging their feet on preparation work.

Director general Hong Hao stated last week that organisers were prepared to wait 'until the last minute' for the US to sign up.

However, he also urged the US to come 'as soon as possible' and ruled out a financial bailout if it failed to raise funds in time. 'They have to come up with the money themselves,' Mr Hong said on Friday.

Less than 12 months before the opening, the US is the only major nation yet to commit to Expo participation, with the delay largely due to its reliance on sponsorship. Organisers said last week that the US had so far secured only US$1.5 million of the projected US$61 million needed.

Frank Lavin, steering committee chairman for the US pavilion, insisted fundraising efforts were on track but said building work might not begin until 'before the end of the year'.

He declined yesterday to comment on the new deadline, which was almost six months earlier than what they had believed it to be.

'I have not seen that particular document,' Mr Lavin said. 'I have got to look at exactly what they are saying before I can comment on it.'

He said the US team had excellent relations with Expo authorities, and even if the deadline was accurate, 'that's almost two months off now'.

Mr Lavin, a former ambassador to Singapore and US commerce undersecretary, previously said that the bulk of the budget was needed for operating costs, and only US$20 million needed to be raised this year.

Expo organisers say none of the 234 countries or organisations that have formally signed have pulled out due to the financial crisis

However, Mr Hong admitted last month that the US was not the only country facing difficulties. The director said several countries, including Argentina and Brazil, had abandoned self-built pavilions, opting instead for rented or shared structures.

The Shanghai World Expo aims to be the biggest and most expensive in the event's 158-year history.

The sprawling site, which spans the Huangpu River south of the city centre, is now a hive of activity as workers race to complete facilities in time for the May 1 opening.

Organisers estimate more than 70 million people will visit the 5.28 sq km site during its six-month run - although just one in 20 is expected to come from outside the mainland.

American dream

Up to last week, America had secured US$1.5 million in funding

The estimated amount, in US dollars, needed to build and run the US pavilio: $61m