SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - Efforts by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) to promote the private sector in the Pacific Islands have improved the environment for doing business and enhanced opportunities for women, says a new report by ADB.

Since its establishment in 2006, the Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) has focused on improving access to financial services, updating business laws, and upgrading the delivery of services by helping state-owned enterprises (SOEs) become more efficient, according to the latest PSDI Annual Progress Report.

The PSDI is a regional technical assistance project cofinanced by AusAID. PSDI is designed to support efforts by ADB's Pacific developing member countries to encourage private sector-led sustainable economic growth.

"The PSDI is unique to the region, and during its first four years of operation it has helped achieve significant reforms to the business environment in the Pacific Islands," said Robert Wihtol, Director General of ADB's Pacific Department.

Women's economic empowerment is a major theme of PSDI. The ADB report notes that many PSDI reforms have had a major impact on promoting the entry of Pacific women into formal business.

The PSDI is helping microfinance institutions in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu to develop their capacity and expand outreach to rural areas. For example, ADB has helped the Institute of Microfinance Timor-Leste become the country's first locally owned commercial bank. The Commercial Bank of Timor-Leste has 10 branches across the country, lending to individuals and small businesses in urban and rural areas. The Bank has boosted local entrepreneurship, jobs, and investment, with 40% of its loans going to women.

In the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu, extensive secured transactions reform has allowed women to finance their children's education. Secured transactions are loans secured by movable assets such as boats, cars, or farm equipment.

The ADB report notes that as reform initiatives come to fruition, the foundation for private sector- led growth in the Pacific region continues to strengthen.

"Another key factor in PSDI's success is its flexibility, which allows ADB to respond to opportunities as they arise," said Eugene Zhukov, Regional Director of ADB's Pacific Liaison and Coordination Office in Sydney, Australia.

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