Italy seeks FAO support for EXPO 2030 despite Saudi pressure

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu with Director-General Qu Dongyu this week. Photo: Chinese Foreign Ministry

 ROME – Italian officials preparing for an inspection next month of the Eternal City’s capacity to host the EXPO 2030 are concerned that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director General Qu Dongyu may be ordered by Beijing to support a rival bid by Saudi Arabia for the universal exposition to be held in Riyadh, diplomatic sources say.

 The Rome-based UN agencies were active at the EXPO 2015 held in Milan with FAO appointing a special coordinator for the universal exposition and pavilions opened in Milan by the agencies to showcase their poverty-busting activities. If EXPO member states vote to give the trade fair to Rome it will be logistically far easier and cheaper for FAO, IFAD and WFP to participate in the exhibit rather than spending member state contributions on travelling to the Saudi Kingdom.

 As host country to the FAO and other agencies Italy naturally expects their senior management to support the Italian campaign by lobbying their member countries to support Italy over Saudi Arabia as a quid pro quo for Italy providing the agencies with facilities such as the sprawling FAO headquarters by the Circo Massimo in the former Italian colonies ministry for which the FAO does not pay a commercial rent.

 EXPO inspectors headed by the Secretary General of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), Dimitri Kerkentzes, will travel to Rome next month for a second visit to assess the Eternal City’s capacity to host Expo 2030 at a massive site in Tor Vergata earmarked for the exposition.

  However in December China’s President Xi Jinping announced his country’s backing for Saudi Arabia’s Expo 2030 bid in a letter to King Salman, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

 The handwritten letter highlighted the solid relations between the two countries and ways to develop them in all fields, the SPA said.

 Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji received the letter on behalf of the Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan during a meeting with the Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom Chen Weiqing.

 Against this background the Farnesina is concerned that Mr Qu will come under pressure to echo Beijing’s decision rather than rally to the cause of the host country Italy, the sources said.

 Earlier this week Mr Qu had a meeting in Beijing with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu who expressed his appreciation for the FAO chief’s efforts to “build a beautiful homeland featuring zero poverty and zero hunger.”

 “Qu expressed that as Director-General of the FAO, he has performed his duty in an active manner, and promoted the development of a global agrifood system to be more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable,” a Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

“Qu Dongyu thanks China for its long-standing support to the FAO, expressed his appreciation to China for its achievements and contribution to the world in poverty reduction and food security in recent years. He expects that both sides will further strengthen cooperation within the GDI framework, and jointly promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at a faster pace,” the Chinese statement said.

 In hustings before his election Mr Qu insisted to member states that he was a scientist first despite being a Communist Party member and that FAO interests would be paramount during his stewardship rather than his being run by Beijing. FAO policy on Expo evidently will be an acid test of that pledge, FAO watchers say.



Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji received the letter of support for Riyadh to host Expo 2030 during a meeting with the Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom Chen Weiqing. (SPA)