Mexico, which had been expected to participate in the Osaka Kansai Japan Expo 2025, has informed the Japanese side of its intention to withdraw from the event. Several other countries reportedly have also indicated their intention to do likewise.
If countries were to withdraw one after another from the foreign pavilions, the "Flower of the Expo," then it would be a major blow to efforts to attract visitors to the international fair. Expo 2025 is a national project. That means the central government needs to work with the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments to quickly overcome the delays in preparations.
Osaka is a popular destination for foreign tourists. The government should strengthen efforts to ensure that all countries and regions scheduled to exhibit during the event actually participate.
As of now, 153 countries and regions have announced they will participate in Expo 2025. Of these, 56 nations are scheduled to build their own pavilions. However, the amount of money many of these countries have budgeted cannot cover actual construction costs. And to date, only 24 countries have managed to line up contractors.
In the case of Mexico, its intention to withdraw is apparently related to budgetary uncertainty. That comes against the backdrop of the presidential election scheduled for June 2024. But if this trend continues, there is a risk that we will see a series of withdrawal announcements in the future.
The biggest factor is the rising cost of construction in Japan. That is due to soaring prices for building materials and labor shortages. The Japanese side has suggested construction methods that would save on costs. But talks with other countries have been thorny.
Meanwhile, there are growing concerns that construction will not be completed in time for the event opening.
Soaring Construction Costs
The construction cost estimate for the entire venue has also swollen to ￥235 billion JPY ($1.55 billion USD). That is 1.9 times the initial estimate. Since the government, prefectural and municipal governments, and the business community, will divide the cost of the project equally, two-thirds is to be covered by public funds. This level of expenditure cannot simply be dismissed as unavoidable.
The theme of the upcoming expo is "Designing Future Society for Our Lives." It should not be considered a venue for the display of luxury items regardless of the cost. Shouldn't the guiding philosophy be that an intriguing Expo25 that uses emerging technologies and ideas while reducing costs will win the admiration of other countries and gain the understanding of the public?
The Osaka Prefectural Assembly recently held its first all-member meeting in 25 years. A number of those present were harshly critical of the upward spiral in Expo 2025 construction costs. Several declared that the forecasts had been "too optimistic."
Control Costs Now, Not Later
The Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition is preparing and managing the event. It has stressed that it will work to ensure that this is the last time the amount requested will be increased. But the time has come for the national government to step in and strictly control costs.
Speaking before the Budget Committee of the House of Councillors at the end of October, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, "We will provide one-on-one support for any delays in construction."
Bear in mind that the success or failure of the Expo will affect the world's trust in Japan. The entire country must respond to this situation accordingly.
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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun