Shanghai, here they come
Flanders will be represented at the World Exhibition in Shanghai in 2010, but it was a close-run thing. â€œThere are many better ways these days to promote a country or a region than to stand in a corner of the Belgian pavilion at something so outdated as a world exhibition,â€ said Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters in October 2007, commenting on the decision taken by his government several weeks previously, but not at the time announced. â€œIt costs far too much, and brings relatively little in return,â€ he said.
Flanders goes to Expo 2010
The Flemish agency for foreign trade had given a negative advice, based on costs of â‚¬4 to â‚¬5 million. â€œThe Flemish government must invest its resources in the most efficient way possible, and the expo is not the most efficient way possible,â€ Peeters said.
His point of view was supported by Philippe Muytters, chairman at the time of the employersâ€™ organisation Voka: â€œThe accent of an expo like that is mainly on prestige. But if youâ€™re looking for the best return on investment, there are better ways of spending your money.â€
The general reaction, however, was more in line with Herman De Croo, then speaker of the federal parliament. â€œWeâ€™re talking here about the third economic power in the world,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ve sent the King once, the Prince three times, the last time with 450 businessmen. Iâ€™ve been twice with a delegation, and yet weâ€™re staying away from the biggest show the Chinese have put on this century?â€
De Croo was referring to the last major delegation which took place in June 2007, when Prince Filip led representatives from 138 companies (60 Flemish, 39 Walloon and 39 from Brussels) together with ministers and commercial representatives on a trip to Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenyang. Among the party were some companies long-established in China, such as dredger Jan De Nul, pharmaceuticals giant Janssen and Bekaert, which employs 3,800 people there.
The Flemish governmentâ€™s decision caused so much protest it was left to economy minister Patricia Ceysens to â€œre-examineâ€ the situation, following Peeterâ€™s unequivocal comments. The Flemish-Chinese chamber of commerce pointed out to her that the decision would involve a loss of reputation for Flemish businesses, particularly in Shanghai itself, which was an important centre where the regionâ€™s exporters had made their first tentative steps into the Chinese market. â€œWe received signals that staying away would be seen as disloyal, with possible direct consequences for trade relations,â€ she said. As a result, Flanders will be represented at Shanghai by Flanders Investment & Trade.
Shanghai was selected in December 2002 at a meeting in Monaco of the International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE), beating rival applications from Warsaw and Moscow, as well as Yeosu in South Korea and Queretaro in Mexico. The exhibition grounds will take up 5.4 square kilometres on the banks of the Huangpu, with 25,000 people being rehoused to make room â€“ the city stresses that their homes had no electricity or sanitation, and the new homes will be better.
Shanghai , a city of 16 million residents, aims to attract 70 million visitors over the course of the exhibition, setting a new record. The city has budgeted â‚¬3 billion for the exhibition itself, with as much as ten times as much to be spent on modernising the city and extending the urban transport network.
The theme of the exhibition is â€œBetter City, Better Lifeâ€ with the accent on urban development. Applications were invited from 30 cities from across the world to be featured as examples of â€œurban best practiceâ€.
Antwerp applied to be one of them, with a project called Antwerp , Project of the Century, which featured the Eilandje, the station quarter, the Schipperskwartier and the northern rail link. Sadly, the bid wasnâ€™t successful and 55 projects were finally chosen from cities like Liverpool, Chicago, Barcelona, Brisbane and Hamburg.
The main part of the exhibition, which runs from May to October 2010, will feature 185 countries and regions, as well as 45 international organisations like the World Health Organisation.