The Netherlands looks back on a successful Expo in Dubai

Today, six months since its opening, Expo 2020 Dubai is closing for good. This also marks the end of the Netherlands’s contribution to this 35th world exhibition.

Last week, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher visited the Netherlands Pavilion: ‘With its focus on the themes of water, energy and food, the Netherlands was able to showcase some of its strengths at Expo 2020 Dubai. Thanks to our pavilion and the participating organisations and companies, we left a memorable impression on visitors and enhanced our trading position, particularly in the Gulf region.’ 

A platform for businesses

Over the past six months the Netherlands Pavilion has hosted over 125 events for companies and knowledge institutions from the Netherlands and the Gulf region. In addition, dozens of trade missions from the Netherlands dropped by, two of which were led by a minister.

These Dutch companies were drawn from a variety of sectors like water, sustainable energy, horticulture and urban development. ‘The activities we organised at the Expo are extremely valuable,’ said Ms Schreinemacher. ‘The Dutch business community has a lot to offer, and the Expo was a chance to show that to the Gulf region and the rest of the world. We’re innovative, we provide smart solutions and we deliver quality. There’s a lot of call for that in many countries in the Gulf region. It’s something I noticed in discussions during my recent visit.’

The 50 companies that took part in the trade mission in November have indicated that they expect a collective sales increase of over €100 million.

Encounters at the pavilion also generated unexpected opportunities. For example, an entrepreneur from India is now looking forward to upscaling his agricultural business in his country by incorporating Dutch vertical farming methods. ‘This shows that we can deploy Dutch knowledge and technology in the areas of water, energy and food anywhere in the world,’ said the minister.

Pavilion as a biotope

The pavilion received over 950,000 visitors,including King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The consortium responsible for its design and construction has won no fewer than 10  international prizes for the pavilion’s sustainable design and use.

Visitors from the Gulf region and beyond saw a mini-biotope, where food was being grown, water extracted and electricity generated, and all in a circular climate system. Dutch innovation formed the heart and soul of the concept. The SunGlacier by the Dutch artist Ap Verheggen managed to capture 1,200 litres of water from the desert air every day. The necessary energy came from solar panels on the roof, which were designed in such a way as to allow in light for the growth of the plants. In this way, energy fuelled water production, and water in turn made it possible to grow food.

A minimal footprint

On 1 October 2021, Expo 2020 Dubai opened its doors to the public, under the slogan ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. It was originally scheduled to start in 2020, but it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over 190 countries were represented at the Expo. The Netherlands had its own pavilion in the Sustainability District, with the theme ‘Uniting Water Energy and Food’.

The pavilion had a sustainable, circular design which incorporated raw, recyclable materials that were commonly used locally. The consortium of V8 Architects, Kossmanndejong, Witteveen+Bos and Expomobilia deliberately chose materials that could be given a new lease of life after the conclusion of the Expo. For example, the steel sheet piles were rented so they could be reused in a future construction project in the region. The pavilion also incorporated materials made of biodegradable substances, such as mycelium from mushrooms.

As Ms Schreinemacher observed, ‘We will be leaving the place behind as we found it. Our physical footprint will be minimal.’

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