• Kyodo

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The Asian Development Bank closed its 35th annual meeting Sunday, painting a guardedly optimistic picture of the regional economy and vowing to help rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Delegates to the three-day conference in Shanghai also underlined the importance of the Manila-based ADB’s “single, overarching goal” of making the Asia-Pacific region free of poverty.

On the Asian economy, they welcomed the brightening regional outlook, primarily stemming from the resurgent U.S. economy. They also renewed their determination to accelerate domestic reform.

In his closing remarks, ADB President Tadao Chino said the participants “noted that the world economy was in a modest recovery from the synchronized slowdown of 2001, and the regional economy is showing resilience.”

But he cautioned that this does not mean all development issues have been resolved. He urged developing countries to “accelerate policy and structural reforms.”

Chino, who assumed the ADB presidency in January 1999, told a news conference later that this year’s meeting heard a chorus of calls for developing Asian economies to “continue with structural reforms, capacity building and improving governance if they are to attain sustainable growth.”

The ADB said in a report last month that it expects economic growth in developing Asian nations to rise to 4.8 percent this year and 5.8 percent next year. Last year’s registered growth was 3.7 percent.

The regional recovery that is under way is primarily due to an upturn in the U.S. economy, which is the largest export market for the region. China, which has notched meteoric growth in recent years, is also expected to serve as an engine of growth for the region.

Chino said Beijing’s accession to the World Trade Organization last December will involve short-term pain but produce fruitful results in the long run. It is hoped to accelerate much-needed domestic structural reforms.

“Areas which are less competitive will suffer in the short term or medium term. But in the long term, the accession to the WTO will be a very good stimulus for the strengthening of the Chinese economy,” he said.

During the annual parley, Afghan Finance Minister Hedayat Amin-Arsala expressed Kabul’s gratitude to the ADB and other donors, saying, “We are gratefully heartened by the interest being shown by the international community in helping to rebuild our nation.”

He also promised that Afghanistan will make the best use of international assistance and asked the world community to continue supporting it.

At January’s international conference in Tokyo on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, donor countries and lending agencies pledged a total of $4.5 billion in financial assistance to Kabul over the period to June 2004. This included an ADB pledge of $500 million.

The delegates to the ADB conference also spoke of the need to step up efforts to eliminate poverty in Asia. Some 900 million people, or 75 percent of the world’s needy, are living in poverty in the continent.

The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction was launched in 2000 with an initial disbursement from Tokyo of 10 billion yen. It was reinforced by an additional contribution of 7.9 billion yen in 2001.

In a radical policy shift, the ADB decided in 1999 to focus specifically on poverty reduction instead of trying to be a broader-based lending agency. A rise in the number of poor in the region following the 1997-1998 Asian economic crisis precipitated the shift.

During the annual gathering, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Kenneth Dam urged the ADB to focus more on increasing productivity in recipient countries when it seeks to help reduce poverty.

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