A Steadfast Partner in Times of Uncertainty: ADB’s Support for Pandemic Response and Recovery in Asia and the Pacific- Masatsugu Asakawa

Speech | 18 September 2020

Address to the Board of Governors by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, at the 53rd ADB Annual Meeting Business Session, 18 September 2020

Introduction

Greetings, members of the Board of Governors.

When we last gathered together for our brief Annual Meeting Business Session in May, I described how ADB has been leading the response and recovery of Asia and the Pacific. ADB is continuing this effort through our coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response and wider operations. I am pleased to report to you today on the progress we have made.
 
My update acknowledges the new challenges we have faced in recent months. Those uncertainties have affected this Business Session, as we were not able to meet in person as we had hoped. 

I want to extend my appreciation to the Deputy Prime Minister for the Republic of Korea and Chair of the ADB Board of Governors for his constant support and flexibility in arranging these meetings. I look forward to the same strong partnership in planning for the Annual Meetings in 2023, and I am grateful for his offer to host us in Incheon. I also wish to thank the Governor for Georgia  and Minister of Finance for joining us today and for supporting our preparations for the 2021 Annual Meetings.

Governors, the candid discussions we are having together during these challenging times have allowed ADB to adjust its operations to meet the changing needs of our developing members. Our agenda for today is abbreviated, but I plan to review your written statements carefully and will always keep my door open to continue our dialogue.

I. ADB’s support for trusted development solutions in times of uncertainty

Let me move on now to the main message I wish to convey as we near the end of these meetings. My message is this: rest assured that ADB will continue to earn your trust as a steadfast partner during the uncertain times we still face in our region as we build for a strong and lasting recovery.

My unshakable confidence in this commitment comes not only from my current tenure as ADB President but also from all my experience prior to taking office. I was closely involved in efforts to address challenges such as the financial crises of 1997 and 2008 that deeply affected our region. I served as chair of the G20 meeting in 2019, which produced tangible results on high-quality infrastructure principles, universal health care, and aging; and as a chairperson of the OECD Fiscal Affairs Committee, which addressed base erosion and profit shifting. 

These past efforts of governments and development partners demonstrated how critical it is to produce global and regional public goods and to foster international cooperation in times of crisis. This important work has also proven to be an investment in our collective ability to confront future crises. 

ADB’s support to our developing members builds on those efforts. And while the health, economic, and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been truly painful for many people, we have the resources to deal with the challenges that we now face in Asia and the Pacific. 

II. ADB’s operations during the pandemic

Let me share with you some of the ways ADB has been addressing the impacts on our region while supporting its recovery.

Demand for assistance from the $20 billion COVID-19 response package that ADB announced in April has been strong. So far, ADB has committed about $11.2 billion in COVID-19 related financial and technical assistance. 

Our support includes grant and technical assistance to help governments meet urgent needs for medical and personal protective equipment. ADB introduced a new financing modality— the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Option, or CPRO—to provide assistance with governments’  countercyclical expenditure programs, and we have already committed about $8.2 billion to support 19 of our developing members. 

In addition, ADB has committed $1.7 billion to the private sector through our COVID-19 response in order to rejuvenate trade and supply chains, and to provide enhanced microfinance and guarantees for liquidity-starved businesses, including those run by female entrepreneurs. 

Working closely with development partners, we have also mobilized an additional $7.2 billion in cofinancing.

It is also important to note that our financial interventions have been bolstered by a number of knowledge activities—such as reports, blogs, webinars, and widely attended online symposiums. 

Your supportive actions, and ADB’s dedicated staff, have made it possible to quickly respond to the needs of our developing members during a time of unprecedented economic and logistical disruption.

Let me also inform you with deep appreciation that we concluded the Asian Development Fund (ADF 13) negotiations on Wednesday, with agreement from donors on a total replenishment of more than $4 billion. This represents a 7% increase from ADF 12. These resources will contribute indispensably in our work to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and build for recovery in low-income countries including Fragile and Conflict Affected Situations, or FCAS; and Small Island Development States, or SIDS.

III. Working with our members for a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive recovery

Our work toward a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive recovery stands on a foundation of mutual trust formed over decades of cooperation with you, our members. Building on these relationships, we will continue to strengthen ADB’s support, particularly in the following six areas.

First, to help our developing members seize the opportunities that renewed globalization can offer in a post-pandemic new normal, ADB will further promote regional cooperation and integration. 

While there are some who suggest that recent border closures and travel restrictions are signs that globalization has ground irreversibly to a halt, I believe that globalization will return, but it will take a different shape. 

To prepare wisely for this, ADB will help our developing members secure more diversified value and supply chains. We will also promote regional public goods for better collective prevention of disease outbreaks; adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts; and enhancement of the regional financial safety net.

Second, we have to be mindful that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an increase in both income inequality and absolute poverty.  

To address these very unfortunate trends, we will strengthen investments in health, education, and social protection, so that safety and opportunities are assured for all members of society—including women, girls, and marginalized populations. Our investments will also help to build the human capital that economies need to thrive in the long term.

Third, we will accelerate our efforts to tackle climate change, so that we can achieve the goals we established in our Strategy 2030: to reach $80 billion in cumulative climate investments and 75% of the total number of our committed operations by 2030.  

Fourth, ADB will invest in information technology and data for health; education; financing for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME); and remote work—while also addressing both the digital divide and cyber security. 

Because of the enormous potential digital technologies offer, ADB will continue to focus on enhancing our understanding of emerging opportunities and risks. We will do this with an eye toward deepening our practical experience in applying digital solutions.

Fifth, we will help our members strengthen domestic resource mobilization through international tax cooperation. This is a crucial, cross-cutting priority for ADB—because all of the key areas I identified so far require governments to improve their capacity to mobilize financial resources while managing debt sustainability. 

And last, ADB will play a role in supporting the efforts of our developing members to secure access to safe and effective vaccines, and to formulate strategies for equitable delivery. To accomplish this, we will continue to strengthen our collaboration with the World Health Organization; the World Bank; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; vaccine experts; and pharmaceutical companies. 

Closing

Let me conclude by emphasizing two more things.

The first is that ADB’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is more important than ever, because it equips us with the range of skills and perspectives needed to truly address the hardships that many are facing during these difficult times—especially poor and vulnerable populations, and women and underrepresented groups. To further this commitment, I welcome the recent establishment of the Working Group on Gender Diversity at the ADB Board, and I encourage our members to give strong consideration to women candidates for seats on our Board of Directors.

The second is that ADB’s Strategy 2030 continues to serve as our roadmap for the uncertain times ahead. Combined with strong coordination from development partners, our COVID-19 response package; ADF 13 replenishment; and other lending, equity, grant, and knowledge operations will all work together to help our developing members emerge from the current crisis—and, in time, settle safely into a new normal that is even more prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable than before.

Thank you, Governors, for making all of this possible. I stand proudly with you knowing that our shared commitments and enduring friendship will soon lead our region to new levels of growth, trust, and collective well-being in the years and decades ahead.

I wish you, and all the people you represent here today, good health and a strong recovery as we continue our journey together.