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Opinion

ADB’s virtual double-header a far cry from party days

Is the party over for the annual meeting extravaganzas?

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History will look back with curiosity at the 2020 Asian Development Bank annual meeting. It was split into two, one in May and one in September, initially in the hope that Covid-19 would have retreated in time to allow the second half to happen in person in Incheon, South Korea. It was not to be: in the end both halves had to be done virtually.

For the moment, the ADB is still planning to hold its 54th annual meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, next May: a promotional video aired in mid-September of gorgeous Georgian mountains (“This feels like a painting… are we dreaming?”) along with various kids, crops, wine and people on horseback. Euromoney is looking forward to it enormously, though one wonders whether it will be possible.

Indeed, will these annual meetings ever be quite the same again? An ADB meeting used to be accompanied by countless investment bank-sponsored cocktail parties, remarkable acrobat-filled opening ceremonies, swathes of bankers and journalists drinking through the night – and that was just Shanghai 2002.

Covid-19 has put another nail in the multilateral-annual-meeting-as-private-sector-party-town coffin

Over the years the annual meeting has, by and large, faded to being more purely about the business of the multilateral, a series of seminars around closed-door governor meetings and little peripheral party-going – the more so since the meeting went through a phase of more distant venues either in Europe (Madrid 2008, Frankfurt 2016) or inaccessible frontier states (Uzbekistan 2010, Kazakhstan 2014, Azerbaijan 2015 – although Fiji

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