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Interview with UN Under-Secretary General, ESCAP Executive Secretary, Mr. Kim Hak-Su

- Mr. Kim, in your interviews you give examples of the success of such Asian countries as Japan, Korea and etc. As far as we know, ESCAP is now developing universal models of raising living standards based on the experience of the most developed Asian countries. Could you tell me please about this work? How do you think, to what extent does the nation mentality, historical habitable statutes play a considerable role in the issues of modern economic development?
- Asia Pacific is geographically and culturally a diverse region, with countries in different stages of development. We have countries that are highly developed like Japan and Republic of Korea, middle income countries like Malaysia and Thailand as well as 14 least developed countries, 19 small island economies and a dozen countries that are classified as economies in transition –each group with varying challenges. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that countries can learn from each other’s successes and failures. ESCAP as a regional organization that binds the countries of the region can facilitate this exchange of experiences. Lessons learned come not only from developed countries, but also from developing countries. The specific socio-cultural, economic and political circumstances obviously have a major influence on the social and economic policies of a country. Therefore, it is not possible to simply copy an approach that was successful in one country, and apply it in another country. For instance in poverty reduction, ESCAP’s analytical role is important: to determine whether a particular approach is a good practice that should be shared with others. In this regard, ESCAP analyzes the experience and identifies the key characteristics of the approach and the conditions under which it was effective. This could be called a “normative model” for poverty reduction. ESCAP offers these models to countries of the region who want to learn from experiences of others. Such a model cannot be simply applied in a new setting. It needs to be adapted to local circumstances. The best way to do this is to test it through a pilot project. The results of the pilot project will show the applicability and also build the capacity of the government staff. Once a pilot project has shown that the adapted model is applicable, and the government is convinced of its usefulness, it should be up-scaled. This requires an enabling environment, i.e. government staff capable of implementing it, laws and regulations supporting it, and policies and programmes promoting and funding it.

- Your organization renders assistance to the social-economic development of Asian-Pacific region as a whole. However, countries of the region constitute not only cooperating sides for each other, but competing ones as well. For instance, in the issues of designation of international transport corridors, export pipelines through their territories and etc. How does ESCAP manage to find just balance between the interests of different state-participants? What is the process of projects selection supported by organizations not only financially but legally as well? How does it contribute to their development and realization?
- Firstly, I would like to make it clear that being a regional UN body, ESCAP deals primarily with regional cooperation rather than bilateral issues. ESCAP’s major role is to facilitate a process that leads to consensus among different stakeholders on broader multi-lateral cooperation framework, which may guide bi-lateral negotiations and agreements. In most cases the outcomes, coming out through policy dialogues and sometimes negotiations, create a win-win situation that satisfies their interests. These projects do supplement national efforts in their development. In transport, ESCAP acts as a coordinating and facilitating body with road and rail transport networks and corridors being developed based on the priorities assigned and proposed by the member countries within their territories. Together the routes are included in the Asian Highway Network and the Trans Asian Railway Network. The Intergovernmental Agreements relating to these two networks provide the mechanism for negotiation and approval of the routes through a process involving all member States. The transport corridors are developed to make maximum possible use of existing infrastructure. UNESCAP works in partnership with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Islamic Development Bank and the Korean Transport Institute to establish a pipeline of projects for investment. In the area of transboundary energy cooperation, ESCAP facilitated the establishment of the North-East Asian Intergovernmental Collaborative Mechanism for Energy Cooperation in 2005. The participating Governments now prepare their own strategies, including studies leading to identifying areas of cooperation, such as pipelines or electricity networks. ESCAP has been asked to serve as the interim secretariat for the Mechanism. Similarly, ESCAP under the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) prepared concept notes for SPECA countries on energy cooperation, namely, the Baku Initiative on Energy Conservation and Efficiency and a Coordinated SPECA energy system that would eventually lead to trans-boundary energy cooperation through exchange/trade of oil, gas and electricity networks.

- In your policy statement you said that “Developing countries are becoming isolated in a greater degree as a result of globalization, liberalization processes and rapid development of information technology.” Can we consider that “isolation” of different countries of the region has different degree? In your opinion, to what extent has Kazakhstan deeply integrated into the global process of social-economic development or, on the contrary, has isolated from it?
- Globalization is to a large extent driven by large corporations and large economies which are technology drivers and capital rich. As a result, smaller countries, LDCs and land- and sea-locked countries as well as small island economies risk marginalization if they do not actively participate in the globalization process and manage to benefit from it. The benefits are clearly visible in the increased trade, higher growth and falling poverty of countries fully engaged in the process. Globalization, however, has become controversial precisely because of the uneven distribution of its benefits and its equally visible negative impacts in countries where it has caused job losses, rising income disparity and environmental challenges. The degree of integration to the world economy will depend on individual country circumstances and in our region we have a wide range from open economies to those that have challenges in integration. Kazakhstan has been quite successful in adopting outward looking policies as witnessed by its advanced stage of accession to WTO, and membership of various regional and bilateral trade agreements, and organizations such as Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Economic Community and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. WTO membership could help the country to establish legal frameworks and market-based institutions supportive of international trade and widen access to markets and investment inflows through the provision of unconditional most-favoured-nation status. At the same time Kazakhstan could also consider acceding to the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) which would link it to both East and South Asia, which contain the most dynamic economies of the region. APTA, the successor of the Bangkok Agreement, is the oldest regional trade agreement in Asia and the Pacific and the largest in terms of population covered. Its current members are: Bangladesh, China, India, Lao PDR, Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka thereby making it a truly pan-Asian trade agreement. In addition to Kazakhstan, some Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan have expressed interest.

- What kind of cooperation trends of Kazakhstan with ESCAP is the most significant, in your opinion: a) for Kazakhstan; for ESCAP? What do you think can be considered as an achievement in this cooperation, and what questions are remaining unsolved yet?
- Most of ESCAP’s assistance to Kazakhstan has been through the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) jointly supported and implemented by ESCAP and ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) since 1998. The objective of the Programme is to support the member countries in developing their cooperation, creating incentives for economic development and integration into the global economy. The SPECA member countries are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan has been a beneficiary in programmes developed in the priority areas such as trade, transport, energy and water resources, and statistics as well in ICT. Kazakhstan has worked closely in revitalizing SPECA, and in this regard the International Conference on Strengthening Sub-regional Economic Cooperation in Central Asia and the Future Role of SPECA, hosted in Astana in May 2005 came out with a number of initiatives on the future functioning and orientation of the SPECA programme. ESCAP as the SPECA coordinator in 2006, formulated the Implementation Plan in consultation with UN Economic Commission for Europe, and Project Working Groups (PWGs) were operational in the following key programmatic areas: Gender and Economy, ICT for Development, Statistics, Trade, Transport and Border Crossing, Water and Energy Resources. Kazakhstan actively participates in all SPECA activities. Kazakhstan chairs the PWG on Transport and Border Crossing and co-chairs a PWG on Gender and Economy. Over the past two years, with the constructive support from NIITK (Research Institute on Transport and Communications, Almaty) through the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Kazakhstan, SPECA has started the development of formats of five SPECA transport databases, including databases on international road routes; international rail routes, intermodal transport infrastructure and border crossing and initiated publication of the Guide to road wayside facilities in the SPECA region. This lays a good foundation for better trade and transport facilitation in the future. Many trans-border problems in the region such as those concerning water, environmental issues including those related to the Aral Sea, as well as trade and transport facilitation can only be solved if there is greater mutual trust and flexibility in regional cooperation. Kazakhstan with its resources and active participation in international cooperation can play a significant role in ensuring deeper and more beneficial integration in Central Asia.

- Mr. Kim, You were the Executive Director of “Daewoo” Corporation. Why did you make decision to change sphere of your activity, firstly having become Ambassador-at-large and then the Head of ESCAP? What do you think nowadays is the most valuable thing from your management experience for your current work?
- I see myself as an economist and as a scholar, researching economic trends and social issues. I studied economics for my master’s degree at Edinburgh University, aiming for a career in banking. Later, after I completed my PhD at the University of South Carolina, I took a job in the private sector. But then I had three major frustrations. First, I couldn’t use what I had just studied, such as measuring monetary policies, international economics, and development economics. Then, after working for two and half years at Daewoo headquarters as an executive director and, then, as president in its New York office, I felt that I was not using the knowledge I had acquired through my studies, nor feeling any real happiness. Second, the private sector seeks profits, rather than serving the public interest. That was my dilemma. While I helped the company make profit, I didn’t feel comfortable. What did make me feel comfortable was working for the broader public interest. Third, contributing to developing countries was more important to me. While I valued my experience in managing a company and appreciated my salary and benefits package, I had to ask myself for whom was I really working? Wouldn’t it be better to work at something that would benefit more people, poor people? Then, the opportunity came. The UNDTCD (United Nations Department of Technical Co-operation for Development) offered me the opportunity to prepare a 5-year development plan for a newly-independent country in the Pacific and they preferred someone with experience in the private sector and in government; with a PhD in economics; and a non-European. When I met the prime minister of Vanuatu, he said he was delighted to have me draft their 5-year plan. That represented a drastic change in my career. But I have no regrets. I am very proud that that opportunity was offered to me. In fact, that was what led to my being here. It was my start in the United Nations.

- Does ESCAP directly interact with large corporations and in whole with business community of state-participants for the solution of common regional problems? Or maybe the organization is working only with governments and official organs? If ESCAP cooperates with business, what are the main directions of this cooperation? Does your organization work directly with large business in Kazakhstan, if yes, on which projects?
- We believe business can be made part of the solution to the challenges of globalization, including how to achieve sustainable development. The United Nations Global Compact, which brings together companies which pledge commitment to the universal principles in the fields of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption, aims to ensure that both the private sector and communities benefit from economic development. The Asia-Pacific Business Forum has been organized yearly by ESCAP since 2004, in rotating countries in the region. The objective of the Forum is to discuss ways to create an enabling environment for sustainable business growth in the region, and identify needed actions, in particular on a regional level. The yearly Forum – the next one is taking place in Almaty on 18 and 19 May 2007 - has been attended by around 300-400 participants from government, business and civil society. Recognizing the importance of building partnership with the private sector, ESCAP has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft at the inaugural ceremony of its newly established regional institution, Asian and Pacific Training Centre for ICT for Development (APCICT) at Incheon, Republic of Korea in June 2006, outlining collaboration between the two organizations in the field of human resources development in ICT.

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