It is hard to think of a more appropriate setting for this year’s Asian Development Bank annual meetings. Manila, the Philippines capital, has long been a case study for under-investment in infrastructure, but the current administration is doing its best to shake off that reputation with an ambitious development plan.
The Philippines is growing fast, at close to 7% a year. It is investing heavily in infrastructure, reforming its capital markets and stamping out corruption. The buzzwords of inclusive growth, resilience and technology feature as prominently in the Philippines’ economic agenda as they do in the ADB’s own strategy documents.
Yet the Philippines is also a microcosm of the development challenges facing Asia’s emerging markets. How will it fund its “golden age” for infrastructure? Where is the right balance between cheap power and climate change? What does the growth of digital technology and artificial intelligence mean for its booming outsourcing industry?
Similar debates are ongoing across the region. And a new threat in the form of protectionist policies and trade tariffs is adding an extra frisson to the discussions. After benefiting from decades of open trade links with the West, could Asia rely on intra-Asian trade and greater regional integration to protect itself from a US-China trade war?
This special report aims to highlight some of the key themes up for discussion at this year’s annual meeting. It also provides an update on the ADB’s continued evolution from a simple infrastructure lender to a financing partner capable of supporting development across the full range of Asian economies, from the very poor to the increasingly rich.
The ADB and the region’s other multilaterals have an important role to play in mobilising funds for Asia’s continued growth. They must also ensure Asia focuses its resources on the projects and initiatives that deliver the broadest and most sustainable long-term outcomes.
But the private sector must also play its part. Banks need to do a better job of supporting small and medium-sized companies and recycling their capital. Asia’s institutional investors have the funds to support the region’s long-term development, if they build the skills to look beyond the low-hanging fruit.
Regulators also have a responsibility to develop their capital markets and increase investment and financing opportunities for their increasingly wealthy citizens.
The Philippines has embraced these messages, though many challenges remain. ADB staff based in the bank’s Manila headquarters have a personal stake in getting it right.
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