47th Annual Meeting - Rethinking Asia's Challenges at the Crossroads of the Silk Road

Feature | 5 May 2014
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ADB's 47th Annual Meeting, held in Astana from 2 to 5 May, saw much discussion on connectivity, innovation, and the need to keep up with the demands of a changing Asia and Pacific.

Almost 3,000 participants picked up their badges for the Asian Development Bank (ADB) 47th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors in Astana from 2 to 5 May - a meeting that saw much discussion on connectivity, innovation, and the need to keep up with the demands of a changing Asia and Pacific.

Participants came from ADB's 67 member countries and beyond, from government ministries and central banks, from business and finance, media, civil society, academia, and youth, cutting across professional, national, regional, and generational boundaries.

Connecting Asia - and Kazakhstan

This was apt, given the location and the overall theme: "The Silk Road - Connecting Asia with the Changing World." As the host location, Kazakhstan indeed stands at a crossroads connecting the manufacturers in the People's Republic of China and Southeast Asia with potential markets in the West, and vice versa.

And for Kazakhstan itself, the occasion was a showcase - not only for its gleaming, still very new capital of Astana, but for its ethnic, artistic, and cultural heritage, which was on display through booths, cultural displays, food, and the volunteer students who staffed the facilities.

"This thriving, modern city is a symbol of the country's remarkable progress since its independence," ADB President Takehiko Nakao said in his speech at the Opening Ceremony.

"I would like to express our deepest gratitude to the Government of Kazakhstan for hosting this 47th Annual Meeting," he later told Governors. "I especially want to extend my appreciation to the people of Astana for their warm hospitality and the many officials and volunteers who have helped make the meeting a success."

Looking beyond the host and the Central Asian region, the Annual Meeting was very much about rethinking - rethinking the poverty challenge facing the region, rethinking how best to increase ADB's resources, and clarifying ADB's strategy in response to the region's challenges.

Poverty challenge

President Nakao in his Opening Address reiterated that the biggest challenge in the region remains poverty reduction. With 700 million people below the poverty line, Asia is still home to more than 60% of the world's poor. Using this measure of $1.25 a day, the region is likely to see an end to poverty in the region within the next decade.

But more than 1.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day remain highly vulnerable to job loss, health problems, prolonged recession, inflation, crop failure, and environmental dangers.

"The challenge for ADB is to help developing member countries eradicate remaining poverty, and support greater inclusiveness to address inequalities," he said. "And there are other challenges: a huge infrastructure gap, environmental degradation and climate change. There is also the question of how to tap the full potential of regional cooperation and integration."

Meeting the challenges

Acknowledging these challenges, ADB during President Nakao's first year in office, has undertaken a midterm review of its long-term program - Strategy 2020. The report reconfirms that ADB will continue to focus on infrastructure development, but will also double its investments in health and education, given the wide benefits that can accrue from all these sectors.

"The region is changing fast. ADB too must change," the President said in Astana. "ADB must sharpen its operational focus to better help its clients overcome challenges."

To accomplish its goals, ADB will pursue innovation in mobilizing finance, innovation in processes and products, and promote innovative thinking and skills in our staff, he added.

Innovation in finance

As part of this innovation in mobilizing finance, President Nakao revealed plans to combine the lending operations of ADB's major lending instruments, the concessional Asian Development Fund (ADF) and the LIBOR-based Ordinary Capital Resources (OCR).

The initiative received broad support of Governors in Astana. "If approved, it would allow us to increase our lending capacity, and enhance support for low-income countries while reducing the burden on ADF donors," President Nakao said. "It would also better position ADB to respond to any future financing needs including for natural disasters and economic crises."

In another innovation, a deal hailed by ADB staff as "groundbreaking and revolutionary," President Nakao and Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov signed a cofinancing framework along the sidelines of the opening ceremony on 4 May.

The framework will, in part, be cofinanced by the ongoing program announced by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to tap the National Fund of Kazakhstan (the country's sovereign wealth fund) for 1 trillion tenge ($5.5 billion) to support industrial policy, small and medium enterprises, and the banking sector in Kazakhstan.

"This is a ground-breaking initiative ... which we hope we can replicate in other countries that have a similar economic profile as a higher middle-income country." Matthew Westfall, Country Director for Kazakhstan, told the press.

Focus on the Asian economy

Away from the official business of the Annual Meeting, participants deliberated on the weighty issues facing the region through a variety of knowledge and partnership events. These included a Governors' Seminar exploring lessons from past financial crises; seminars on the Millennium Development Goals, development effectiveness, and fiscal policy; and for the first time, a televised CNBC Debate looking at the Asian - and global - economic outlook.

Risks to Asian growth were very much on participants' minds, whether external shocks such as further Fed tightening, a slowdown in the People's Republic of China, or a possible subregional fallout if sanctions are imposed on Russia.

But President Nakao told delegates that while some risk remain the Asian economy remains robust: "Developing Asia is in a much better position now to weather any potential shocks than before."

To Governors, President Nakao stressed that it is crucial to pursue prudent macroeconomic management and bold structural reforms.

"ADB will continue to support our developing member countries in achieving these objectives," the President concluded.

For Asia and Pacific, there is both reason for optimism as well as an unfinished development agenda to be dealt with. With the 47th Annual Meeting concluded in Astana, ADB now turns its attention to implementing its mid-term strategy and looks forward to reporting progress next year at the 48th Annual Meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan.