ADB meeting: Participation trophy is all to Bangladesh

ERD secretary Sharifa Khan addresses the ADB meeting on Thursday.Prothom Alo

Adjacent to the media center are multiple briefing rooms, where officials and experts of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are often speaking to reporters on various significant issues.

At 10:00 am on Thursday (the third day of the 56th annual meeting of ADB in South Korea), the chief of ADB gender equality thematic group, Samantha Hung, was holding a scheduled briefing at the media center. She told the newsmen that the ADB aims to include gender equality to some 75 per cent projects of its sovereign and non-sovereign loans by 2030.

On the other side, a key session of the conference was underway, with representatives of ADB member countries presenting speeches on behalf of their respective nations. They shed light on various economic aspects and plans, in addition to prevailing setbacks and needs.

The session was not open to all, but it was being telecasted on a television screen in the media center. At one stage, Sharifa Khan, secretary to the finance ministry’s economic relations division (ERD) and chief of the Bangladesh delegation at the conference, was seen on the TV screen addressing the session.

She delivered her speech in the morning (local time), but the subject matter could not be known until the afternoon.

The ADB conference is not a low-profile routine event, rather it is the largest gathering of Asia’s economic policymakers. Almost all the countries sent their finance ministers and central bank governors and most of them arrived here a day before the meeting on 2 May.

Since then, they have held several meetings, addressed various events, and spoke to the media on different issues. Soon after joining the conference, the finance minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, held talks with the ADB president and sought loan from the lender's newly announced climate loan programme.

The finance minister-level meeting between Japan and South Korea was one of the key attractions to the international media. South Korean finance minister Choo Kyung-ho met with his Japanese counterpart Shunichi Suzuki for the first time in seven years.

The two nations have been maintaining a bitter bilateral relationship since 1945 when South Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule.

After the meeting, the Japanese minister said, “As for geo-political challenges, we’re experiencing incidents like North Korea’s nuclear missile development and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Japan sees these as unacceptable, and something the two countries must address together.”

On the sideline of the conference, finance ministers and governors of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus South Korea, Japan and China (ASEAN+3) held a special meeting and discussed various issues regarding the banking sector, according to a Reuters report.

The ADB held all events online after the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020. Since then, this is the first ADB conference where the delegations are attending in person. Hence, the Asian policymakers are leaving no stone unturned to reap the maximum benefit from the conference. They are sharing experiences and holding bilateral meetings.

The financial collapse in several US banks was among the agenda in the discussions of the conference. The Asian policymakers discussed how the aggressive hike in policy rate by the US Federal Reserve is affecting the banking sector in other countries.

Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has made it clear that she will not join the trend of policy rate hike as her country shelters many small and medium industries. A hike in policy rate will put them in a tight corner. South Korea and Japan came up with a similar stance.

The delegations are now discussing possible actions while some are talking about reining in inflation and fixing the supply chain.

Japan and Korea turned out to be the key players of the gathering while delegations of China, India, and Indonesia are also playing a crucial role.

Sri Lanka is being represented by its foreign minister Mohamed Ali Sabry. He, also a former finance minister of the country, spoke to different groups about the wayouts from their economic crisis.

All the countries sent high-powered delegations to the conference, but Bangladesh is the only exception here. The ERD secretary, who mainly negotiates loans and aid, is heading the Bangladesh delegation in the conference.

After the formal opening of the conference on 3 May, the ERD secretary in response to a query about her schedule at the conference said she will attend a potential loan agreement signing programme with the Exim Bank of South Korea. However, it has nothing to do with the ADB event.

Apart from that, she addressed the main session of the conference on Thursday, as the chief of the Bangladesh delegation.

Sometimes later, the ADB provided the newsmen with a URL link containing statements of participating delegations. A total of 41 speeches were found there, but there was no speech from the Bangladesh delegation, though Sharifa Khan completed her speech in the morning.

So, it could not be known until afternoon what Bangladesh actually told the ADB event. The most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win but to participate. After coming here, it seems Bangladesh kept the essence of the Olympic games creed with all its heart.

But the ADB is one of the key sources of foreign aid for Bangladesh. It has signed loan agreements worth USD 28.30 billion under 701 projects with Bangladesh and released USD 21.19 billion so far.

Incheon is located right next to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The ADB financed the express highway that connected the two cities in 1960.

Incheon is hosting the 56th annual meeting of ADB with 5,000 representatives in total. A good number of meetings and seminars are taking place here.

Other than government representatives, delegations of various private sectors and civil society are holding various meetings.