Canada has officially declined an invitation from the South Korean government to participate in Expo 2012, saying it can't afford to attend the World's Fair.

Officials at the Korean Embassy in Ottawa confirmed Tuesday they received a letter last month from Heritage Minister James Moore sending his regrets that Canada will not participate in the event.

Korean embassy spokesman Heon-jun Kim said the Republic of Korea tried its best to convince Canada to attend Expo 2012, but was not successful.

"We tried very hard to persuade them to participate in the event next year, but we have to respect their decision-making,'' he said. "We are really sorry about that. We really worked hard to invite them.''

Moore's July 14 letter said the federal government is committed to other things.

'The shallow understanding of Canada, of Canadians and what is unique about Canada hinders top-of-mind interest in visiting the Canadian pavilion.' —Expo 2010 report

"At this time, our government is committed to a number of key domestic priorities, including a return to a balanced budget through stringent fiscal discipline that will prevent Canada's participation,'' said Moore's letter.

The letter congratulates South Korea for its selection to host the 2018 Winter Olympics at PyeongChang.

"Please be assured that the government of Canada values its close ties with the Republic of Korea and is dedicated to strengthening its relationship,'' said Moore's letter.

"We are hopeful that our two nations, working together, can make great strides in finding mutually acceptable solutions to a range of bilateral issues,'' said the letter.

James Maunder, Moore's director of communications, issued a statement about the government's Expo 2012 decision on behalf of Moore.

"Canadians elected us on our promise to return to balanced budgets,'' said the statement. "This requires difficult decisions. One of those decisions was Canada's participation in Expo 2012. We carefully reviewed the proposal and will not be participating.''

Cirque du Soleil a draw

A Harris-Decima report commissioned for Canadian Heritage following Canada's participation in Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, indicated that Canada is not a top draw at world expositions.

Expo 2010 was attended by 246 countries and international organizations, including a record 73 million visitors, but Canada was not viewed as a priority stop for visitors, said the report.

The pavilions for Japan, United States, France, Germany and England were the major draws, said the report.

Interest in the Canadian pavilion did increase, however, when world-renowned Canadian performers Cirque du Soleil arrived, the report said.

"The shallow understanding of Canada, of Canadians and what is unique about Canada hinders top-of-mind interest in visiting the Canadian pavilion,'' said the report.

Businessman works to change Canada's mind

Vancouver businessman David Sinclair said he is working with Korean and Canadian business officials in an effort to overturn the decision.

He says Korean officials he has talked to are offended Canada has rejected the invitation, but are holding a spot for Canada at the fairgrounds until next month in case the government changes its mind.

Sinclair builds pavilions for major events, including World's Fairs.

Sinclair said he finds the decision counterproductive at a time when Canada is negotiating a free-trade deal with South Korea and working to improve trade ties with Asian countries.

"It seemed to me inconceivable that Canada would not go into the Asian show where all our major players are,'' he said.

Canada and Greece are the only two countries to decline Expo 2012 invitations for economic reasons.