expologo.gifIceland will have one, Switzerland will have one and so too will Peru.

But the US, China's second largest trading partner after the EU, is still desperately scrabbling to find the funds to build a national pavilion for Shanghai Expo 2010 with less than 300 days to run.

Better late than never, the US signed an agreement on Friday confirming its involvement in the Shanghai Expo in 2010, ending months of speculation that the US would have to take a rain check because of a lack of funding.

The past few weeks have brought new rays of hope with a clutch of sponsors signing up at the eleventh hour – see this earlier story — but the organisers is still have to raise half the projected $61m cost of the pavilion.

How did this chaotic situation develop?The official line, according to the USA Pavilion website, states that the US is prohibited by statute from spending appropriated funds to support a national pavilion.

Instead, a non-governmental entity has to be created to design the pavilion and raise 100% of the funding from the private sector. In the case of the Expo 2010 pavilion, several groups tabled proposals to fulfil this role, but their bids were all rejected by the US State Department.

So, after wasting much time on this failed tender process, the government finally gave the contract to a non-profit group, Shanghai Expo 2010 in April 2008.

Robert Jacobson of the BH&L Group, one of the groups whose bids were rejected, got in touch with EngagingChina to argue that the rules put bidders in an impossible position.

The State Department wants to see definite funding plans, but the bidders cannot get firm commitments from sponsors unless they have been awarded the contract. And in the current climate, many potential sponsors have preferred to wait and see or take a rain check.

Jacobson says politicians rather than the legislators are to blame for this Catch 22 situation: He says:

No law prohibits US Government spending on Expo activities. That sham was promulgated by the Bush Administration in 2006 when it decided not to fund the US Expo effort and maintained by the current administration, maybe because selling influence is more politically valuable than a simple congressional appropriation. No one admires the current team and was it not for Hillary Clinton's interjection of attorney Jose Villareal to run the US effort, it would probably still be unfunded.”

Nevertheless, BH&L Group states on its own website that legislation enacted by Congress in 1990-1991 forbade the use of public funds for US participation in Expos, so Jacobson may be incorrect on that particular point.

The legislation stated that funding such events was not in the best interest of the American taxpayer. From that point forward, including an embarrassing withdrawal from the Millennium Exposition in Hanover in 2000, the US has been largely absent from the Expo world stage.

BH&L argues that the US presence at Expos has been on a downward slide since the 1990s. The US pavilion at Seville Expo 92, which EngagingChina attended, was a cobbled together affair including two geodesic domes, a display of the Bill of Rights, a Peter Max painting, a plywood house and a Budweiser stand.

Let's hope that the US can pull out the stops and produce something more appropriate for the word's richest nation this time round.