EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW. World EXPO 2020 in the United Arab Emirates – a Unique Opportunity and Huge Possibilities for Lithuania

By the Resolution of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, 1 January 2019 marked the establishment of an Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Abu Dhabi.

The career diplomat Edminas Bagdonas has been appointed as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in JAE.

On 6 August, the credentials to the Ambassador were presented by Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania. On 1 September, Edminas Bagdonas, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Lithuania, presented the credentials to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. Copies of the credentials were also presented to Ahmed Sari Al Mazrouei, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the UAE.

Before leaving to Abu Dhabi, his excellency the Ambassador Edminas BAGDONAS was interviewed by JŪRA MOPE SEA magazine.

Mr Bagdonas, last year the Government of the Republic of Lithuania decided to open an Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates as of 1 January 2019. To this day Lithuania has been represented in the UAE and six more Arab countries by the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Cairo, the Arab Republic of Egypt. Was this decision of the Lithuanian Government, aside from other circumstances, also influenced by the fact that the United Arab Emirates won the right to organise the world EXPO 2020 and on 30 November 2017 Lithuania made the decision to take part at this event?’

‘The fact that the Lithuanian Embassy has been established in the United Arab Emirates namely at this time has surely been influenced by the world EXPO event in Dubai. This is an important event for the countries of the Persian Gulf from political, economic and cultural perspective. The influence of the United Arab Emirates to the entire region is enormous and Lithuania, just like the majority of the European countries, is interested in strengthening political connections, economic-cultural and tourism development in the region. The fact that 75 per cent of the visitors of the exhibition in Dubai will come from other countries opens big opportunities for Lithuania to introduce itself to the global community.’

‘You have a responsible mission – to begin the work ‘on a plain field’ and establish a Lithuanian embassy, which is, likely, expected to fulfil rather important tasks. What are these tasks and where are you going to start?’

‘The task of opening an embassy is difficult, followed by huge responsibility. I have been appointed as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Lithuania in the United Arab Emirates as of 8 August. On 15 August a plane will take me to the Emirates and my first task will be to find a suitable place, where I could officially hoist the flag of the Republic of Lithuania.’

‘Does this mean that there will be no welcoming at the embassy?’

‘Exactly. Although the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania has officially been established on 1 January this year, there is no physical location yet. The Embassy needs to be established, which means dealing with lots of formalities and organising the institution’s activity, because the delegation, which will begin to organise the pavilion construction works arrives already this autumn.’

‘The first steps of the Embassy in the UAE coincide with Lithuania’s active preparations for the world EXPO 2020. What are the special goals raised to the head of the new embassy? What plans and aspirations do you bring to the United Arab Emirates as soon as you finish your term as an ambassador in another state?’

‘The United Arab Emirates host embassies of 115 states. Perhaps we should have gone there earlier, because Lithuanian business is rather actively penetrating the UAE market. Currently this is the most convenient opportunity for politics and diplomacy in this country. Thus, we do have enough of plans and aspirations. UAE is an important state in the Persian Gulf and among the Arab countries. It is a member of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), established in 1981. This group, consisting of the founder-countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) is the main forum for the relations with the European Union. The trading bloc of the Persian Gulf countries is the sixth largest EU trading partner with 143 billion US dollars’ worth of trade. European Union’s exports to the United Arab Emirates constitutes approximately 42 billion euro. The UAE region is in a significant shortage of workable land, making the market highly dependent on imported food. It is predicted that food imports to the UAE in 2020 should reach 50 billion US dollars. Thus, the United Arab Emirates and other Persian Gulf countries are also a promising market for Lithuanian exports - both food and intellectual. Meanwhile, Lithuania needs this rich country’s investments and experience, accumulated in the field of logistics, oil, gas and high technology.’

‘Will the world fair with more than 180 participating states and an expected 25 million of visitors have a significant impact on the embassy’s ordinary activities?’

‘In 2017, the trade turnover between Lithuania and the UAE was Eur 136 million. This number is expected to show significant growth. These indices are sought after by the Lithuanian business, which is rather successfully establishing in the Emirates, and the same goals are delegated to the development of the diplomatic representation. The task of the embassy is to help achieve these goals and strengthen business positions in order to make Lithuania noticed and heard in the Persian Gulf region as best as possible. Lithuanian pavilion should make a great contribution to that. I see its activity at the world EXPO as a huge opportunity and unique possibility for the leaders of the Republic of Lithuania, also politicians, business, science, culture and art to introduce Lithuania’s capabilities to the world and, at the same time, learn from the experience and achievements of the other countries. The embassy will be ready and do everything to use these opportunities to their fullest potential.’

‘Lithuania has been officially taking part at EXPO events since 1937 and has not missed a single one since the restoration of its independence. In total, Lithuania participated at thirteen EXPO exhibitions and has been awarded with various prizes at the majority of them. This shows that the Ministry of Environment, managing the participation at these exhibitions, has gathered a professional team and does a great job preparing for these prestigious events despite the fact that Lithuania’s funding for this purpose is much smaller than can be afforded by other countries of similar size and capabilities. In your opinion, what could balance out the shortage for funding?’

‘It is no news that were are neither a big, nor a rich country. How can we compensate this? I believe, with our intellect, ingenuity and creativity.’

‘The theme of the exhibition, which will take place in Dubai from 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021, is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ with subthemes of ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Mobility’ and ‘Opportunities’. Lithuania falls into the ‘Sustainable Development’ zone, together with Sweden, Slovenia, Holland, Spain, Germany and several other countries. In your opinion, what are Lithuania’s opportunities to attract the visitors of the exhibition? What should we show in Dubai?’

‘The best we have. Scientific achievements, high technology, lasers, biotechnology, conceptual solutions, inventions and global-level pieces of art. We must do it in a concentrated and conceptual way.’

‘How can the embassy, beginning its activity, contribute to Lithuania’s preparation for the event and successful presentation?’

‘We will be active and always ready to help. Our function is to become a reliable link. Therefore, we will always help the organisers and staff of the pavilion, and visitors from Lithuania to reach the people they need, the authorities of the Emirates, representatives of business and other areas.’

‘It seems that the Lithuanian community in the United Arab Emirates is quite large and active. How could this part of Lithuania contribute to the preparations for the exhibition and during the event itself? Do you have any plans for including this potential somehow?’

‘Of course. More than 2,000 Lithuanian people are already there. They have been living and working in the Emirates for several or a dozen years, have the knowledge, experience and connections. This is a very important link to ensure successful operations for the pavilion and the embassy. I believe that they will want to contribute to this work. While the task of the embassy is to ensure that their activity in the Emirates is smooth, as well as useful not only to them, but also Lithuania.’

‘During EXPO, Dubai, with no doubt, will be visited by highest authorities from the majority of countries, their ministers, associated structures, and representatives of politics, business, art and culture. Thus, you could say that the entire half of a year will feature continuous diplomatic relations, perhaps even negotiations or documentation of certain intentions. This is a difficult task, but also an excellent opportunity to complete diplomatic tasks without leaving the embassy much. What are your plans and who is your team for these activities?’

‘Visits are already being planned and coordinated. We are also forming our team. The embassy will have two attaches: for commerce and agriculture. Other offices will be run by truly professional experts.’

‘In what other countries the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania, established in the United Arab Emirates, will be accredited?’

‘We will find this out a bit later. I believe that the embassy, established in Abu Dhabi, will take over some of the countries, curated by the Lithuanian Embassy in the Arab Republic of Egypt in Cairo.’

‘What are Lithuania’s major interests in the Arab countries? How could they be represented by the Lithuanian pavilion at EXPO 2020?’

‘Lithuania is interested in exporting as many of its goods to the Emirates as possible. Perhaps even horses, bred in Lithuania, could be of interest to Arab riders. Another goal is to improve the junction between Lithuania and the UAE. This would greatly benefit from the development of flight routes between Lithuania and the Emirates.’

World EXPO fair has been taking place since 1851 and is compared to e.g. the Olympics for its relevance and popularity. Currently the world fairs take place every five years with a smaller EXPO event in between. The largest EXPO fair to this day took place in Shanghai (2010), featuring 192 state-participants and a record-breaking number of visitors (73 million). Lithuania has been officially participating at EXPO since 1937 and has not missed a single event (making a total of thirteen) since the restoration of independence.

The Government of the Republic of Lithuania decided to take place at the fair in the United Arab Emirates on 30 November 2017 and Lithuania has been allocated with a 1550 m2 plot of land in the Sustainable Development zone between Sweden and Slovenia, quite close to the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and other most advanced states in Europe and the entire world. Lithuania will be introduced to the world as a modern state that has preserved the true values and is open to the world. Participation at the fair will cost Eur 6.5 million.

The ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ Expo 2020 in Dubai will take place from 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021, featuring more than 190 states of the world and predicting 25 million visitors with the majority (75 per cent) coming from abroad. The more than 4 km2 territory will feature thematic Sustainable Development, Mobility and Opportunity pavilions, as well as individual pavilions of all states, participating at the fair.

Participation at the global EXPO in the United Arab Emirates, which will celebrate the state’s 50th anniversary in 2021, is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how in three decades Lithuania managed to not only return to the family of the world’s independent states, but also make excellent achievements in all fields, especially high technology and innovation. Lithuania’s successful representation at the fair would not only increase the amounts of goods already exported (furniture, grain, engineering equipment), but also open routes for other exporters, such as food and, especially, high-tech products, also strengthen cooperation in the fields of information and financial technology, renewable energy (especially solar modules), healthcare and life sciences, as well as promote tourism.

The construction of the Lithuanian pavilion, which is expected to attract up to 2 million visitors, will commence already this year, based on the project Openarium (designed by Edita Bružikaitė, Mantas Čekaitis, Mindaugas Bučas), selected during an open tender. The two-storey building, featuring an impressive installation of wooden constructions and window shutters, decorated with traditional motifs, symbolising Lithuania’s openness to the world and innovation, will also have a rather high energy-efficiency. The construction and furnishing of the pavilion is expected to be supported by Jūrės Medis, Solitek, Narbutas furniture and other companies. The exposition will feature selected and integrated successful and visually-attractive Lithuanian innovations, visual materials about the country and pieces of art. The pavilion will host business, science and cultural events for target audiences, there will also be a bar and a Lithuanian souvenir shop.

‘Thank you for the conversation.’

Interviewed by Zita Tallat-Kelpšaitė

 

The magazine SEA has been published since 1935
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been published since 1999
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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
published since 1999.

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