Asian finance chiefs to mull doubling health, education investment

Posted at 05/04/14 8:59 AM

ASTANA - Financial leaders from Asia-Pacific countries are set to discuss doubling investment in the region's health and education sectors by 2020 during a two-day annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank that will begin Sunday in Kazakhstan.

In Astana, finance ministers and central bank governors are expected to reconfirm the need to bolster the ADB's lending capacity to provide efficient support for low- and middle-income countries, some of which are struggling to receive loans.

ADB President Takehiko Nakao told a press conference on Friday, "Still 700 million people are under the $1.25 a day absolute poverty threshold (in the region)," adding, "Asia is still home to poor people so we should continue to address this issue of poverty."

He added the bank will work to strengthen its lending capacity not only to support poor nations but also to prepare for possible natural disasters.

One of the key topics of discussion at the ADB's annual gathering will be the midterm review of its "Strategy 2020," which identifies 10 strategic priorities between 2008 and 2020 to spur growth and eradicate poverty in the region.

In the review, the ADB plans to expand its lending for education to 6 percent-10 percent in 2020 from 3 percent in the period between 2008 and 2012 and boost that for health to 3 percent-5 percent from 2 percent.

Asked about China's recent move to create an Asian infrastructure investment bank, Nakao said he "welcomes" it.

The ADB is willing to collaborate with the bank, if it is established, to bolster the Manila-based organization's lending capacity to meet huge investment needs for infrastructure building in the Asia-Pacific region, he added.

On the sidelines of the ADB's annual conference, finance ministers and central bank governors from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Japan, China and South Korea are scheduled to meet Saturday.

But it is uncertain whether South Korean financial chiefs can attend the meeting in the wake of the April 16 sinking of a ferry that left more than 300 people dead or missing.

In Saturday's meeting, ASEAN nations plus Japan, China and South Korea are expected to discuss ways to promote the resilience of local currency-denominated bond markets and bolster financial cooperation in Asia amid concerns over capital outflows from emerging economies following the U.S. Federal Reserve's tapering of its large-scale asset purchases.

From Japan, Finance Minister Taro Aso and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will attend the ADB meeting. Representatives from each country are set to give speeches from Sunday on their nation's economic challenges and their plans to support poor nations.

Nakao will wrap up the meeting with a press conference on Monday.