Not part of the world?

Hannover Expo 2000: U.S. is absent as 156 exhibit at the first full-scale world's fair in eight years.

June 12, 2000

EVER SINCE London's 1851 Great Exhibition and Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition, world's fairs have shown off the wonders of the industrial age. Are they passe now that the globe is in the midst of an upheaval that links nations instantly with one another?

The U.S. business community seems to think so.

When Expo 2000, the first full-scale world's fair in eight years, opened last week in Hannover, Germany, 156 countries had pavilions there. One glaring absentee: the United States.

Why this happened boils down to the galling disinterest on part of the U.S. businesses: They did not want to raise the $45 million cost of a pavilion.

The United States has been present at every world's fair since the pioneering London exhibition 149 years ago. Despite America's absence from Germany, many other countries think the concept is worthwhile.

While many of the landmarks built for past world's fairs have not survived, some symbols have proven lasting and still identify their cities. The Eiffel Tower is one example. And some folks remember the great fairs of the past in this country.

It may be that changes in today's world are so rapid that the Internet -- and Disney-inspired theme parks -- provide the best ways to exhibit inventions. But as long as other countries participate in global exhibits, the absence of the United States will be noticed.

Nonparticipation conveys all kinds of messages. It may even partially explain our negative trade balance.

The next fair is scheduled to be held in Seto, Japan, in 2005. It wouldn't hurt for some forward-thinking U.S. businesses to start planning now.

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