Q: What is your assessment of the economic cycle in Asia?

A: Growth in Asia remains solid. Excluding the so-called Newly Industrialised Countries [Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Taiwan], growth is expected at 6.2% in 2019 and 6.1% in 2020. If we keep an average annual growth of 6%, the economy of the region is going to double in size in 12 years. There is a slowdown because of slower growth in China and trade disputes. On this latter issue, I believe they are not a big problem unless they escalate and damage consumer and investor confidence. [...] Overall, despite the slowdown, we are expecting even higher growth than in 2018, in countries such as India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Indonesia. 

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Q: Typical recipient countries of ADB financial support in south and south-east Asia have become middle- and upper-income countries and their budgets and economies do not need the support of the bank any more. How are you adjusting to stay relevant in such a quickly changing region?

A: The ADB can play very important role in certain areas like infrastructure, climate change, disaster mitigation, gender equality, regional health issues and  other cross-border issues like refugee crises. At the moment, we have a total equity of about $51bn, and our portfolio of outstanding loans is worth about $106bn. There is still much room for growth. And it’s not just about finance, but also about supporting policies, governance, institutional issues.

Q: The ADB has also updated the mix of financial tools used to provide assistance to its members to adjust to the growing specific weight of private sector financing in development finance worldwide. Can you give some insight into the way you combine different tools to support recipient countries?

A: Since I’ve been here [2013] we have been expanding operations (loans and grants) from $14bn to $22bn per year in commitments. For small island countries and fragile economies we use grants; for less advanced countries we use concessional loans; in even in the space of regular lending countries we try to have different terms attached to our loans. We will mix these different tools in the future, and in addition to project loans and policy-based lending we are also using result-based lending.

Q: The bank wants to increase private sector financing to one third of its operations by 2024; non-sovereign operations made up 17% of total operations in 2018. How are you going to achieve that?

A: We are trying to expand private sector lending, which is essentially lending to private companies, direct equity investment, or issuing guarantees to private companies. We are trying to increase these operations in frontier markets such as Kyrgyzstan to finance private companies active in the social sector: health and education for example. At the moment we are considering carefully issues like equity investment and the kind of companies we want to invest in, early stage companies, or companies that are close to an initial public offering (IPO) so that we can encourage them to go public. At the same time, we want to issue more guarantees to private companies so the private sector can do more work.

Q: Another priority for the ADB’s 2030 strategy is gender equality. How are you pushing gender elements in your financing operations?

A: Our goal is that 75% of our committed projects have gender equality elements. Sometimes companies struggle to incorporate a gender element in a project. We are trying to use our advisory function for non-sovereign operations to include this element. For instance, in a power transmission project in India we included the gender element by establishing scholarships for female engineers in that specific company so that they can be trained and become experts in this field. By promoting these ideas, even if it looks small, just paying attention to gender is  an important step to promote a gender equality agenda.

Q: Commitments into Pacific island countries declined by 45% in 2018 from a year earlier. What’s your outlook on the region?

A: Pacific islands countries still relatively small countries with less capacity to absorb capital, which is why overall figures tend to be influenced by timing. Although numbers may look bumpy, there is an underlying trend of growing operations in the region. In Pacific island countries there are some opportunities for tourism, and also opportunities coming from the IT sector as the internet enables working at distance. But they also face challenges related to climate change disasters, like more frequent hurricanes, heavy rainfall and rising coastal sea levels. In this regard we would like to provide more adaptation measures.