What to expect at the ADB annual meeting in Baku

The iconic Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan, the tallest skyscraper complex in the city. Photo by: Wilth / CC BY-NC-SA 

A cosmopolitan city known for its vibrant cultural scene, Baku is one of several world capitals that have successfully and seamlessly merged Western and Eastern influences. The oil-rich capital of Azerbaijan, Baku is also the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Caucasus.

And come Saturday, May 2, it will play host to more than 3,000 government officials, business leaders, investors, academics, civil society representatives and journalists who will be converging on the city for the Asian Development Bank’s 48th annual meeting.

A contiguous transcontinental country, Azerbaijan is a vital corridor for trade between Europe and Asia, making partnerships essential not just for Baku but for all countries plying its corridor. It therefore comes as no surprise that, conceived with Azerbaijan, the theme for ADB’s annual meeting this year is “Fostering Partnership for Development.”

Indeed, 2015 is a momentous year for development, with the agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals and a new climate change agreement set to be finalized in the coming months. For Asia in particular, the rise of a China-led infrastructure bank looks to change the region’s development landscape and challenge traditional leaders in the arena.

“What kind of support certain institutions such as the ADB or the World Bank and others can do [to support] these initiatives is one key element” likely to dominate discussions during the four-day annual meeting, ADB President Takehiko Nakao told Devex in an exclusive interview at the bank’s headquarters in Manila, Philippines.

Fostering partnerships is a theme ADB conceived with Azerbaijan, ADB President Takehiko Nakao shares in this video interview.

Through May 5, participants will take part in a series of conferences and seminars on topics ranging from development finance to social and environmental safeguards.

“We have a host of formal and informal consultations that help shape economic, financial and social policies and programs in the Asia and the Pacific region,” ADB Secretary Woochong Um said in a video released by the bank ahead of the annual meeting.

Apart for the need to build more and better partnerships, what key issues would be discussed in Azerbaijan? Here are three important ones.

ADF-OCR merger, other reforms

A major highlight of last year’s annual meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, was Nakao’s announcement of a series of reforms to make the Manila-based institution more effective and keep its relevance in Asia and the Pacific.

And perhaps the biggest of these reforms is the move to merge the bank’s two financial instruments — the Asian Development Fund and the Ordinary Capital Resources — in an effort to increase its lending resources without having to ask its shareholders to boost their contributions.

At this year’s meeting, ADB is dedicating a session on the merger, where stakeholders can learn about its benefits and how it can carve a new path for multilateral lenders to engage in something similar in the future.

Updates on other reforms rolled out over the past two years will likely be discussed as well, including those related to procurement process improvements, the new office for public-private partnerships and the bank’s move not just to open its extensive knowledge library but also make it easier for the public to locate the resources they are looking for.

The rise of AIIB

Last year, discussions on how ADB can lead the region’s growth and development invariably led to debate on the imminent launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This year will be no different.

What was then just a proposal from China has since turned into a polarizing institution that has, to date, gained 57 prospective founding members — including all of the BRICS economies and major European powers, led by the United Kingdom.

While the Manila-based institution has publicly welcomed the new player, several experts and insiders claim AIIB’s rise has put traditional lenders like ADB and the World Bank on their toes, and are cautiously assessing its potential impact on their operations and staffing. AIIB would need experience development bank professionals on its roster, and looking to the ADB and the World Bank to fill its staffing needs is highly probable.

AIIB is not specifically mentioned in the program, but it will likely be discussed on the sidelines, especially since AIIB officials are expected to participate in the annual meeting. It will be interesting to see how the “partnership for development” theme will play in these discussions.

International goals and agreements

As previously mentioned, 2015 is the year when major development agreements will be finalized and put into action. A new global disaster risk reduction framework was agreed in Japan last month, with the post-2015 development agenda a new international climate agreement set to be finalized in September and December, respectively.

And Asia-Pacific should take a leading role in these processes.

The devastation Cyclone Pam wreaked on Vanuatu and its neighboring countries, and Saturday’s deadly earthquake in Nepal also underscore the need to develop a better disaster risk management scheme for the region. It highlighted the importance of resilience building as well, and how crucial it is for the region’s development movers and shakers to prioritize this moving forward.

With this in mind, the annual meeting will have a workshop to foster discussions on creating resilient communities, which will be based on lessons learned in disasters. There will also be a panel on the role of international finance institutions in the post-2015 development agenda, which will be led by members of the civil society.

“[The] ADB annual meeting is an excellent opportunity to renew old friendships and forge new ones among all of us working to reduce poverty in the Asia and the Pacific region,” Um concluded.

What key development issues should be discussed at the ADB annual meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.