By: Trends Editorial Team
Mohammad Reza Mowdoodi former head of the trade development organization and the former head of national commercial brand commission of Iran.
The World Expo event is the largest exhibition event in the world with a 170-year history and is held every 5 years in one of the member countries with a high capacity to host. The World Expo ranks third in terms of importance and attendance after the Football World Cup and the Olympics, and first in the world in terms of duration. The importance of the Expo is such that to host the event, countries incur heavy costs to create the required infrastructure and capacity, and consider the opportunity a privilege offering a golden promise for the future advancement of their country. A recent example of such exuberance is the UAE which, since 2013 when it was announced the host of Expo 2020, has declared the day an official holiday and illuminates Burj Khalifa to honor the occasion. Iran has not yet taken advantage of this international opportunity and it is fair to say that the most important trade exhibition event in the world is still rather unknown here with few people having recognized its role and importance. In this regard, we had a conversation with Mohammad Reza Mowdoodi, the former head of the Trade Development Organization and the former head of the National Commercial Brand Commission of Iran, to get his perspective of this event at this time.
What is the significance of events such as the World Expo and especially Expo 2020 Dubai? Of course, we must note here that the 2020
Dubai Expo will take place in 2021!
Expo is in fact the largest gathering of the world community that allows participants to showcase their place in the world rankings of national values and prestige. In other words, every five years, countries around the world come together to show where they stand culturally, economically, scientifically, technologically, and on environmental issues, as well as what values they pursue, and what successful achievements have they achieved from the human perspective. In fact, the World Expo is the Olympics of the national identity competition among countries. It is frankly an opportunity to redefine the culture, thought and approach of nations within the world community that can even impact the future path of human history.
I am curious to know your explanation of the last sentence you said before we continue to talk about Expo Dubai. What exactly do you mean by this phrase?
The World Expo has undergone profound changes throughout its 170-year-old history and as much as it has been a platform to introduce innovations to the world, it too has assimilated values important at national levels. At one time, Expos were just an occasion to showcase novelty products by participating countries, especially products that made fundamental contributions to the world community. For example, at the first World Expo, held in London’s Hyde Park back in 1851, the telegraph was unveiled; and at the 1876 Philadelphia Expo, the typewriter was introduced to the world; at the 1900 Paris Expo, the diesel machine; and in 1964 in New York color television was unveiled. We should note that in periods such as the famines of World Wars I and II, the function of the Expo changed slightly, and it became more of a market for the direct supply of products that war-torn nations needed. But soon after the World Wars this approach was adjusted and the Expo was once again on its old track, so that today the slogans of the Expos best represent the mission of the event. For example, with the advent of the importance of climate and environmental issues, since the 1998 Lisbon Expo in Portugal whose motto was centered on water and its importance, the slogan of the Expos in 2000 Hanover, Germany, 2005 Aichi, Japan, 2010 Shanghai, China and the Milan (Italy) Expo in 2015 have been “Man, Nature and Technology”, “Nature’s Wisdom” “Better City, Better Life” and “Nutrition of the Earth, Energy for Life” respectively. In other words, today Expos have become advocates of global and strategic environmental approaches in the world.
What is the slogan of Expo 2020 Dubai and why is it held in 2021 – and if we can return to the first question, what is its importance for Iran?
If I want to start from the end of your question, I must say that this is the first time in the history of the Expo that this event is held in the Middle East and in the neighborhood of Iran. Therefore, it offers a golden opportunity for Iranians, especially economic, cultural, scientific and environmental activists, to witness at a very low cost the largest gathering of countries and the unveiling of the latest approaches, technologies and achievements of human society. It should be noted that this Expo, with more than 196 participant countries, will host visitors in an area of 450 hectares in size. Each country will try their best to create a distinct and progressive image of themselves for millions of visitors from all over the world, and lay the groundworks for attracting tourists, business partners and foreign investors. In particular, with a crowd of over 25 million people anticipated for this huge event, the record for visitors is expected to be broken at the Dubai Expo. That is why the UAE has spent billions of dollars to host this event and hopes to create one of the best Expos in the calendar of this global event. Of course, World Expos, as I said before, are held every 5 years, and normally the Dubai Expo 2020 should have been held last year, but due to the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, this event was postponed to 2021. The motto of Expo 2020 is “Linking Thoughts and Creating the Future”.
How has Iran used these opportunities to date and what have been its achievements?
So far, about 60 world expos have been held in the world, and as mentioned before, the first one was held in London in 1851 with architectural content, which coincided with the vice presidency of Amir Kabir during the Qajar period. Interestingly, Iran participated in this expo on the recommendation of Amir Kabir, and with only 25 countries present happened to be also highly praised by the Western media. But with the martyrdom of this symbol of intelligent development in Iran, our presence in the following periods became negligible. According to some documents, in later 19th century, and in 20th and 21st centuries, Iran participated in only three, four and again three events respectively, in most of which its participation lacked power and effectiveness.
What benefit can Iran get from this partnership of global nation states?
You cannot be part of the global value chain, if you do not have an active and constructive relationship with the world community and are unaware of global developments and achievements. Basically, exhibitions allow participants to learn about each other’s advancements and are tools for promoting and developing trade, attracting customers and encouraging foreign investments. And so, one of the pillars of interaction and developing trust among nations is this active presence in international events. Therefore, if you are indifferent to these global events, you will be unable to establish trust with friendly states, or attract partnerships, and exchange cultural, economic and political knowledge and insights. We know that trust is a prerequisite for any interaction, especially business interaction. And trust is directly related to the brand, which means that if a person’s or a country’s reputation is tarnished or negative, the level of cooperation with it will suffer. On the contrary, a good reputation, recognition and prestige will increase the level of positive interaction and constructive communication.
Basically, exhibitions, and especially events such as the World Expo, are an opportunity to redefine the brand and reputation of a nation, and in such an atmosphere, the level of interaction, relationships and trust can be strengthened and enhanced. Therefore, if we ignore opportunities such as global expos, we will marginalize our future and be deprived of the beneficial results of developing relations and expanding the geography of global cooperation and participation. Let’s not forget that Iran and our entrepreneurs and elites will have a golden opportunity to meet with 25 million visitors and 196 countries in one place at the Dubai Expo, and this is not an opportunity that is always available to everyone, and the cost of establishing this connection outside the Expo will be much higher.
How will Iran appear in this upcoming Dubai Expo period?
The world’s expectations of Iran have always been very high due to its rich history and potential and actual capacities, but unfortunately a powerful and prominent presence in the Expo has not been seen in the current list of governmental priorities. Apart from Iran’s presence in the first Expo, which was followed by European acclaim, before the 1979 Revolution, it was only at the 1967 Montreal Expo in Canada that Iran shined and the Iranian pavilion was admired by everyone. But after that, we faced a sharp decline in the quality and management of the Expos until Expo 2015 Milan, where for the first time after a long period Iran was able to gain visitors’ admiration and attain a second-place ranking among participating nations. It is unfortunate that our governments authorities, due to a lack of understanding of the importance of the Expo, do not allocate the necessary funds for the nation’s commanding presence and promotion of Iran’s cultural and commercial brand. It is this negligence that prevents the formation of economic alliances and treaties during the six-month period of the Expo and greatly increases the subsequent costs of market development and damages the chances of attracting foreign business partners and investors.
Why is there this indifference?
Perhaps the reason is the lack of awareness of our officials and people in power about the importance and position of the Expo. We know the importance and value of the Football World Cup and we spend millions of dollars on improving the quality of our football teams. Also, the importance of the Olympics is clear to many people and the authorities, and plenty of time and money are spent on team building and preparation for years and months at length. But the Expo, which has a direct and rather immediate impact on economic growth and trade development, is not a focus of anyone’s attention at all. In fact, it only seems to be allocated a minimum budget, and this has made our presence in the Expos less distinctive and influential and barely worthy of our rich history, culture and technological capacity. However, Tehran International Exhibition Company (TIEC), which is the official management team for Iran’s participation in the Dubai Expo, is seriously determined to make Iran’s attendance in this global event more effective. And despite the inadequate allocation and payment of budget (even less than the approved amount), the goal of TIEC is to show the world a different and more developed image of Iran, and to make the most of this golden opportunity.
Are there any events planned at the Dubai Expo 2020 for Iran to attract an international audience?
Yes. The most important of these is the extensive planning for sending business delegations and holding functional Business-to-Business (B2B) meetings with foreign counterparts at this Expo. We believe that the more this capacity can be used to familiarize Iranian economic actors with international counterparts at this event, the lower the cost of market development and customer acquisition will be for us later. Also, on Iran delegations’ agenda is plans for holding an international conference to attract foreign investors and to introduce opportunities for favorable and commercially lucrative participation in a variety of projects in the country. There are also various booths to acquaint visitors with capabilities of Iran’s various industries like mining, oil and gas and wind and solar energy as well as tourism and knowledge-based industries. Each booth is tasked with production of great content and the mission to promote Iran’s respective commercial brand for all to witness.
What is the role of the Trade Promotion Home in this?
Office of Trade Promotion (OTP) is the oversight authority for dispatching Iran’s business delegations and is the organizer of specialized meetings (like B2B gatherings) at the Dubai Expo for Iran. OTP will also be organizing the international conference on attracting foreign investment and it is responsible for producing the content for industry booths at Iran’s pavilion. As such, OTP’s mission is to create the most advantageous atmosphere for encouragement of interaction and development of constructive relationships among Iranian economic actors and foreign counterparts. At the same time the Office of Trade Promotion must demonstrate an original, different and positive picture of Iran’s real capabilities and industrial maturity to the world, and provide the grounds for promoting the country’s commercial brand, which is a prerequisite for the development of trade and international participation in the country.