The plans for New Zealand's $53 million pavilion at the 2020 Expo in Dubai have been unveiled to coincide with a visit by a United Arab Emirates sheikh and senior minister.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is the Foreign Minister for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is in New Zealand for meetings with ministers this week.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters showed him the model of New Zealand's pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai – a 2000sq m area which organisers say will include exhibition spaces, a restaurant, a design store and hosting facilities.

The design has been based on a "waka taonga" – a container for storing treasures – and it will be in the sustainability area of the expo.


The $53 million cost of taking part in the Expo was criticised by Act leader David Seymour when the former National Government announced it last year.

National defended it saying it was important to showcase New Zealand to the 180 countries taking part in the expo and the 25 million visitors expected during the six months the expo runs. It was also important to strengthen links with the UAE as New Zealand seeks a trade agreement with the Arab states.

The last expo New Zealand took part in was in Shanghai in 2010. It has been involved in many since the first Great Exhibition in London in 1851 where its more modest stall including flax, minerals and Maori craft.

Officials have estimated about 4.5 million people could visit New Zealand's pavilion at Dubai.

As well as Peters, Sheikh Abdullah met Trade Minister David Parker and will meet Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday morning.

Andrew Little and sisters Val and Jennifer meet with UAE Sheikh and Foreign Minister Abdullah in Parliament. Photo / Supplied
Andrew Little and sisters Val and Jennifer meet with UAE Sheikh and Foreign Minister Abdullah in Parliament. Photo / Supplied

It was not all business however - Sheikh Abdullah met with Andrew Little and his sisters Val and Jennifer, a meeting requested because of a link between his father and Little's father Bill Little.

The Sheikh gifted the siblings a rare book featuring photographs of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Little said there were only 300 copies of the book in the world.

In return, Little presented the Sheikh with an unpublished book by his father about his connection to Sheikh Abdullah's family.


"There were good discussions about out fathers and our respective countries. We said were we looking forward to the World Expo in 2020."

Little's father and Sheikh Abdullah's father knew each other during the 1950s when Bill Little was a British Army officer in charge of supervising an area then known as the Trucial States near Oman.

"It was an observer role but he had to engage with the local communities … and the big issue was the way to stake a claim and exploit the oil deposits there," Little said.