Shaping the Future of Regional Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific - Masatsugu Asakawa

Speech | 18 February 2021

Video message by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP)  High-level Dialogue on Shaping the Future of Regional Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific, 18 February 2021 

Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), it is my pleasure to join you today for this important dialogue on Shaping the Future of Regional Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific. 

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic threatens to reverse the region’s hard-won development gains. 

While uncertainties around the pandemic remain substantial, vaccines offer great promise to reduce the health and economic impact and allow for a faster return to some normalcy in economic and social activity. As our economies face an uncertain path to recovery, regional cooperation becomes more important than ever. 

Let me highlight three key areas where stronger regional cooperation is essential to help combat the challenges of the pandemic and build for a lasting recovery.

First, we need stronger regional cooperation to build resilience, especially against health security risks. 

Cooperation is essential to improve overall regional health security by strengthening health systems and coordination among national regulators and agencies, ensuring real-time monitoring and exchange of information on emerging outbreaks. 

ADB’s ongoing Greater Mekong subregion Health Security project has helped improve regional cooperation and communicable disease control in border areas, and strengthened disease surveillance and outbreak response systems of GMS countries.

Ensuring access to safe and effective vaccines for all people, including the poor and the vulnerable, also requires cooperation across countries. Since vaccines are a global public good, we need to mobilize and deploy resources through a multilateral approach, instead of leaving everything to individual countries.

ADB, through its $9 billion new vaccine initiative—the Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility, or APVAX—has been working closely with COVAX, WHO, the World Bank, and other multilateral institutions to deliver safe and effective vaccines fairly and equitably. 

Second, we must restore strong trade, deep regional supply chains, and vibrant investment, which have been a major driving force behind the region’s rapid growth and economic transformation. 

Despite border closures and travel restrictions, I believe economies will reopen and reconnect soon. The signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, in November 2020 signaled our region’s commitment to open trade and investment. Building on this renewed commitment, we must ensure that the benefits reach low-income, land- or sea-locked countries; small businesses; and the poor and vulnerable. 

To do this, ADB has ramped up its trade and supply chain finance programs. To date, these programs mobilized $5.8 billion and helped many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to participate in global trade and supply chains, especially during this period of disruption caused by the pandemic. 

We also remain committed to better trade facilitation, which includes implementing paperless trade; improving digital trade standards; and supporting capacity-building initiatives.

Third, the pandemic has pushed many economies into fiscal deficits and higher debt. 

Because governments will have to eventually restore their fiscal sustainability, we need to strengthen domestic resource mobilization and international tax cooperation. Regional cooperation can address this important need. It can be especially effective in helping to close the tax loopholes that some multinational corporations take advantage of. 

The issue has become more challenging, as economies have moved toward increased digitalization because of COVID-19 mobility restrictions. 

Large and growing markets, especially in Asia and the Pacific, are increasingly drawing investments from multinational corporations. We need to ensure these corporations pay their fair share of taxes by closing the loopholes. 

Last September, ADB established a regional hub for domestic resource mobilization and international tax cooperation. The hub will serve as a platform for countries and development partners to exchange ideas, knowledge, and best practices; and to better coordinate their actions. We plan to officially launch this hub at a high-level regional tax conference this coming May.

Let me conclude by assuring you that ADB stands ready to support all these efforts through stronger regional cooperation, so that we can overcome our common challenges.

Let me also make it clear that ADB will not waver in our commitment to achieving the goals stated in our Strategy 2030, such as tackling climate change; addressing poverty and the worsening income gap; ensuring gender equity; and enhancing environmental sustainability.

We know that recovery and continued progress toward inclusive and sustainable growth are within reach, and that our friendship and cooperation will ensure that we get there together. 

Thank you.