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Full text of Stephen P. Groff’s speech at the 12th China - ASEAN Forum on Social Development and Poverty Reduction,June 27, 2018 Adjust font size:

The 12th China - ASEAN Forum on Social Development and Poverty Reduction,held on June 27th-29thin Manila, Philippines. Stephen P. Groff, Vice President of Asian Development Bank (ADB) made a speech at the forum.  [Photo by Xiang Ting /]

The 12th China - ASEAN Forum on Social Development and Poverty Reduction, held on June 27th-29th in Manila, Philippines, aims to strengthen China-ASEAN cooperation by discussing issues like rural rejuvenation, rural-urban poverty linkages and trade liberalization. The theme of this year's event is “Enhancing Poverty Reduction Partnerships for an ASEAN-China Community with a Shared Future”. 

Stephen P. Groff, Vice President of Asian Development Bank (ADB) made a speech at the forum. The full text of the speech is as follows:

Distinguished poverty experts, friends, colleagues and all who assisted in making this important knowledge sharing event possible, a very warm welcome and good morning!

It is my great pleasure to be here for this 12th ASEAN-China Forum on Social Development and Poverty Reduction, representing the Asian Development Bank. We are honored to work with the International Poverty Reduction Center in China (IPRCC) and the National Anti-Poverty Commission of the Philippines (NAPC) in sponsoring this important gathering, through the Regional Knowledge Sharing Initiative (RKSI). The RKSI is a joint initiative of the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the ADB to promote the exchange of knowledge among ADB’s developing member countries.

Over the next 2 days, we will discuss how to build successful partnerships for poverty reduction in ASEAN and China. As a prelude, let us remind ourselves of the sheer enormity of the progress that the people of Asia have made over the past decades. 

When ADB opened its doors for business back in 1966, it was to a very different world. I doubt if today’s children, whether in Cebu, Kota Kinabalu, or Kunming, would recognize that scene now. An average child born here today can expect to a live a longer and healthier life, be better educated, and enjoy a standard of living far beyond the reach of their parents. In China, over 800 million people escaped poverty in the past 40 years, the largest such reduction in history. And, of course, notable successes abound in ASEAN - as ADB prepares its new Strategy 2030, we now cater for a largely middle-income region, which is better integrated, and ever less dependent on traditional aid.

Nonetheless, we all know that the job of fighting poverty remains unfinished, and often it is the last mile that is the hardest. When I talk of averages, we know that these data are the result of adding rich and poor together, and aggregated economic data are of little use to the many people who still struggle with the basics of life. 

In this region the concentration of poverty in rural areas is a particular challenge – here, we still see millions of people engaged in low-pay, low-productivity agricultural work. This feeds the strong and unsustainable migration to cities, which we see in so many countries. 

Among those many people who struggle to escape poverty we know that there are disproportionate numbers of women. People with disabilities face innumerable hurdles. And in the face of demographic change, the elderly often face the prospect of poverty. In an uncertain economic environment, young people – especially those less educated – face particular challenges to find secure, rewarding employment. In ADB we always remind ourselves that poverty has a human face, and is not a mere statistic. 

So what can we – including ADB  - do to eradicate poverty in ASEAN and the People’s Republic of China? First, I would like to dwell on some of the key lessons we have learned over the years:

1.Most people escape poverty as a result of their own efforts– the best we can do is to support them in that process, through good education and training, work opportunities and in that regard services that support women’s participation in the labour force. We know that the best role governments can play is to guarantee macroeconomic stability, provide a supportive, fair environment for businesses large and small, and ensure good working conditions. 

2.Businesses will not flourish no matter how good their product, if they do not have access to markets, both at home and abroad – business also need reliable power and water. As such, infrastructure has a vital role for employment creation and concomitant poverty reduction. When it comes to tapping overseas markets, the software of trade is vitally important – efficient border services, and customs procedures greatly influence competitiveness. For agricultural economies, sanitary and phytosanitary standards are vital to permit cross-border trade. 

3.Many people are not capable of working, even though they may wish to do so. This includes young people, the elderly and people with disabilities. They need and deserve our support, through good social protection above all. Reliable and objective national poverty targeting systems like the Philippines' Listahanan or Cambodia’s ID Poor program help government and nongovernment agencies target services and social assistance.

So, with these lessons in mind, what can we do to help at this international level, drawing on all the great experience and resources across ASEAN and China? 

On social protection, we can foster exchange of knowledge between policy makers and practioners ADB will be glad to support the implementation of best practices in social protection, both from within the region and elsewhere.

The biggest impact on poverty will be through job creation, and especially in rural areas. Helping agribusinesses to find markets is one great potential area for ASEAN-China cooperation: together this is a market of close to 2 billion people with a steadily growing purchasing power. For poorer countries and regions in particular, the prospect of tapping export markets is one that offers great promise. As such, greater regional cooperation and integration is a vital process, and one which ADB is committed to support. We must also orient our assistance directly to business, small and large, offering them good advice, affordable credit, and also help them tap technological innovations. To do all of this is a great and complex challenge, and beyond the ability of any single state or private actor – so, to the theme of this conference, we should build partnerships across business, governments, research institutions, and financiers, and ensure that these partnerships work across international borders.

Across the region, ADB is increasingly supporting the transformation of low-productivity agriculture into a sector that can offer stable and higher incomes. And here partnerships are a cornerstone of our approach, using both our private and public sector financing windows, as well as the vital research function of  our knowledge departments. 

In Vietnam, for example, ADB is assisting small coffee farmers in expanding their coffee sourcing network through collaboration with a global agribusiness company. In Indonesia, a combination of aerial surveys, satellite data, and remote sensing is used for an irrigation asset management information system. 

At the heart of our assistance is the firm belief that cooperation among our member countries will bear the greatest fruit in terms of job creation and ADB is committed to support that process. 

Let me close by wishing the Forum all success in building partnerships for poverty reduction across ASEAN and China.

Thank you. 

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