Illuminated inscription

Your author has recently returned from a brief business trip to Dubai. While its main purpose was to meet with clients, no time in the region would have been complete without a visit to Expo 2020 (had it not been for the pandemic, the event would have taken place last year). The original concept of World Fairs was pioneered in the modern era by the Victorians, with the first held in London in 1851. Since then, a World Expo has occurred roughly every five years, with it currently being the turn of the United Arab Emirates (Japan is next). Each Expo serves as a platform for national pride – not to mention tourism – but also provides some valuable insights into current global priorities.

The lofty ambition of Expo 2020 is “connecting minds, creating the future.” At a high level, both traits were on display. Mobility and sustainability as pervasive themes were evident across many of the country pavilions your reviewer visited. Taking these in reverse order, an increasingly prominent green agenda was visible almost everywhere. Saving the planet and promoting the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations seemed to be a clear priority. Many countries showed presentations on their efforts to develop green energy, reduce water wastage (a particularly important topic in the Middle East) and promote recycling efforts. We have written on all these topics in the past few years and will be revisiting water in more detail in early 2022.

Presentation of the robot
Illuminated city at night

Elsewhere, we have regularly used the term digital by default in our commentaries and this theme seemed to be taken up across many country pavilions too. Better access to digital (via enhanced broadband, particularly in remote areas) was stressed as a priority. In the more developed world, an increasing number of countries seem are recognising the potential that artificial intelligence can offer, if used appropriately. Deployments to solve medical problems seem both particularly relevant and popular.

While it would be hard not to be impressed by what was on display at Expo 2020, it is one thing to demonstrate commitment and another to practically deliver on targets. Some of the exhibition is undoubtedly vanity, even if the potential to do better remains indicative. Perhaps the country pavilion of greatest interest to your author was China. It was not just its size (few, apart from the Gulf States could rival it), but its clear statement of intent to be recognised as a serious global player. China at Expo was a passive-aggressive demonstration of its strength (and arguable leadership) in areas as diverse as smart cities, space exploration and novel materials. All these achievements were couched with a message of cooperation. As we noted previously, saying and doing are two different things, but after any visit to Expo, it is hard not to be excited about the future.  

1 December 2021

​​​​​​​​​​The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. The author of this piece has no personal direct investment in the business. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Photos taken by the author.

Alex Gunz, Fund Manager


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