All Eyes on Astana for ADB’s Annual Meeting

By Satinder Bindra on Thu, 01 May 2014

With its stunning, modern architecture, crisp blue skies, and myriad influences, Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, provides a dramatic backdrop for ADB’s 47th Meeting of the Board of Governors that starts 2 May and concludes three days later. Most of the activities take place in the Palace of Independence, nestling in the shadow of the magnificent Hazrat Sultan Mosque, one of the largest in Central Asia.

Like its host country, this year’s Annual Meeting reflects the different influences at a crossroads between Asia and Europe. The overall theme is “The Silk Road – Connecting Asia with the Changing World.”

 In this connection, the meeting will showcase Kazakhstan’s and Central Asia’s economic growth and increasing prosperity in recent years, its potential as an investment destination, and its role at the center of Eurasian connectivity.  

Given its location—and as the world’s largest landlocked country—Kazakhstan is central to enhancing regional transport connectivity. A couple of new ADB infographics vividly depict the Central Asian patterns of trade with Europe and East Asia.

Central Asia lags East Asia and Southeast Asia in terms of intraregional trade. From January to August  2013 only 6.3% of Central Asia's total trade was between countries in the subregion, down from 8.3% in 2000.

More and better transport links between Central Asian countries as well as with the rest of Asia are key to strengthening further economic growth as are efforts to promote cross-border trade. ADB is working with the 10 Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) countries to implement priority projects in transport, energy, and trade facilitation.

 But the meeting is more than just about Central Asia. About 3,000 participants are expected to converge on the city over the next five days. They’ll include  finance ministers, central bank governors, business leaders, investors, journalists, and civil society representatives.

From ADB’s perspective, a key topic will be the midterm review of ADB’s Strategy 2020 endorsed by its Board last month. The report reaffirms that ADB will continue to focus on infrastructure development to strengthen inclusive growth and will double its investments in health and education.

Other highlights of the Annual Meeting include the Governor’s Seminar, which will examine the lessons learned from recent financial crises and look at ways of reducing economic and financial vulnerability in the region. This is the flagship among a variety of high-level seminars featuring top panelists from around the world. Topics range from fiscal policy to connectivity, the knowledge economy, and development effectiveness.

For the first time ever, the meeting will feature a TV debate hosted by international broadcaster, CNBC, on Asia’s economic outlook. Panelists for Friday afternoon’s event include ADB President Takehiko Nakao, Indonesian Minister of Finance Muhamad Chatib Basri, UNESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar, and Paul Gruenwald, Chief Economist, Asia-Pacific, for Standard & Poor’s. CNBC Anchor Susan Li will moderate the discussion.

Let’s not forget many significant meetings take place on the sidelines—not least the ASEAN+3 Finance Ministers, who will hold a press conference on Saturday after their deliberations.

I’ll save my final thought for the vibrant civil society program this year. The centerpiece of this engagement is a meeting with senior management on 2 May. But there is also a lively youth program, including a series of youth debates over the four days, culminating in the final on Monday, 5 May.

Our youth delegates have already, early on, enthusiastically embraced ADB’s social media channels—particularly Twitter—to join the conversation on the Annual Meeting. Follow all the action and have your say on #AstanaADB.

Like hundreds of others I’m excited about learning more about Central Asia’s economic growth, as well as ADB and its operations in the stately setting of Astana’s Palace of Independence.

I wish you all a great meeting and a pleasant stay here in Astana!