Opening Remarks by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, at the Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond in Asia and the Pacific Conference (hosted by ESCAP), 31 August 2020

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen.
I would like to thank Ibu Armida for giving me the opportunity to deliver opening remarks at this important event.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on our region and the world. The pandemic has cost thousands of lives and put a heavy burden on our health systems and economies. 

This year, most of ADB’s Developing Member Countries (DMCs) will experience economic contraction, and the region as a whole will experience its lowest growth in six decades. Efforts to lift hundreds of millions of people in our region out of poverty have been set back. 

From the early stage of the pandemic, ADB provided grants to our DMCs to meet their urgent needs to purchase personal protective and medical equipment. Then on April 13, we launched a $20 billion comprehensive response package. 

As part of the package, we developed a new emergency countercyclical fiscal support instrument called the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Option, or CPRO, to help support strained government budgets. We have already committed $6.9 billion to these CPRO programs in 16 countries. ADB has also provided much needed liquidity and working capital to the private sector through trade and supply chain finance, especially for micro, small and medium sized enterprises. In total, ADB, together with our partners have provided about $16 billion of loan and grant assistance to support the COVID-19 response of our DMCs. 

We also bear in mind that we must retain our capacity to continue to provide sufficient financing to our DMCs. This is important not only because we need to brace for possible future waves of the pandemic, but also because ADB wants to support our DMCs to recover from the crisis, with a renewed focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs and related targets in the Paris Agreement on climate change provide strong frameworks for the post-pandemic recovery in Asia and the Pacific. But realizing these ambitions will not be easy. 
We need to rebuild our economy and society with green, resilient, and inclusive measures. Investing in infrastructure that satisfies “G20 quality infrastructure principles” should be an important part of post-pandemic recovery packages. We also need to address worsened income inequality due to the pandemic and ensure affordable, accessible, and high-quality education and health services. 

Addressing these issues requires us to mobilize even larger financial resources than we anticipated before the pandemic, and to further strengthen incentives in our DMCs to make SDG-compatible investments. Let me highlight a few measures that can help in that regard: 

  1. Improving tax policy and administration, by broadening the tax base and closing loopholes created by the digital economy, and by making the tax system more progressive to address income inequality; 
  2. introducing a carbon tax to drive our economies toward an environmentally sustainable path; 
  3. strengthen financial markets to enable countries to tap their domestic savings for their long-term investments; and 
  4. promoting thematic bonds such as gender, green and blue bonds to mobilize private financial resources to achieve key targets under the SDGs.

As highlighted by SDG-17, to design and implement these measures we must further promote international and regional cooperation as well as public-private partnerships. 

I believe today’s conference contributes to this purpose, and we at ADB are committed to deepen our partnerships to help our DMCs recover from the crisis and achieve the SDGs.

In concluding my remarks, I want to emphasize that when we seek to recover from this unprecedented shock, it is not an option to return to business as usual.

Because of the pandemic, we have all been forced to innovate how we work, how we make use of digital technologies, and how we communicate and collaborate.

Going forward, let us harness this momentum and make it part of our “new normal.”

Let us stay safe and let us stay connected.

Thank you.