OSAKA - In a surprise development with important implications for Osaka, a French newspaper reported Sunday that French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will withdraw Paris’s candidacy to host the 2025 World Expo.
Osaka, which is bidding for the event along with Baku, Azerbaijan, and Ekaterinburg, Russia, reacted cautiously to the news. Gov. Ichiro Matsui warned that the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche’s report was not an official announcement.
“Even if the report is true, all it means is that the number of countries bidding has decreased from four to three. Osaka will continue to make strong efforts to win the Expo,” Matsui tweeted late Sunday night.
The weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche reported that Philippe pulled the plug on the Paris bid over doubts about whether the project would be economically viable and due to concerns it would cost more than anticipated amid a lack of firm corporate support.
Supporters of the Osaka 2025 World Expo bid have long seen Paris as their main rival, partially because the Bureau des International Expositions, which manages the events, is based in Paris and many of the voting members are from Francophone African countries and were expected to support the Paris bid.
The report comes just over a month before the BIE is expected to dispatch delegations to the candidates to evaluate their bid proposals. Candidates will have a chance to make one more presentation in June to the BIE and the winner will be chosen in November.
Osaka’s plan calls for the expo to be held on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay. Last year, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which is backing the bid, estimated that the direct economic effect of hosting the expo would be about ¥1.9 trillion, a figure lower than the prefecture’s earlier estimate of ¥2.3 trillion.
Osaka has its own cost concerns. Last year, the city estimated that extending a subway line to Yumeshima would cost ¥54 billion, and that other transportation infrastructure projects related to the island would add another ¥19 billion. The city assumes that Osaka Prefecture will help out financially if it hosts the expo.
There is also the issue of an adjacent casino resort. With the Diet scheduled to begin debate on casino-related projects this year, Osaka hopes a law will be passed by year’s end.
Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura has said the city hopes to have a casino built on Yumeshima before the 2025 Expo. But there is concern among expo supporters the BIE may hesitate to award an expo if it’s going to be held right next to such a resort.