UNESCAP eyes multifaceted partnership with Korea

By Shin Hyon-hee

Subregional chief calls for more customized development policy, eyes regional economic integration

  • Published : Feb 9, 2014 - 19:53
  • Updated : Feb 14, 2014 - 19:23
This is the first installment in a new series featuring the growing number of United Nations offices in Korea. ― Ed.

The U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific seeks to broaden cooperation with Korea’s government, private sector and civil society to help the country play a bigger role in promoting sustainable development and inclusive growth in the region.

In an interview with The Korea Herald, Kilaparti Ramakrishna, director of its East and Northeast Asia office located in Incheon, also laid out a plan for regional integration that could bring about a more balanced and resilient economic community.

While commending Korea’s transition from aid recipient to donor, he advised that the country make its assistance efforts better customized to serving the needs of individual countries.

Kilaparti Ramakrishna, director of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s East and Northeast Asia office

“There’s something that is needed to make the connection between the Korean experience and the needs of other countries,” Ramakrishna said.

“They have different political circumstances, different democratic norms and practices. So you need to really ask countries, what is it that you would like to achieve, and how can we help you?”

To increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its practice, he called on the Korean government to make greater use of his organization as a ubiquitous intermediary. Seoul officials have been striving to build their experience more independently, either policy-wise or on the spot.

“I think our role as a U.N. agency is that we’re everywhere and we work in all the countries,” Ramakrishna said.

“(Korea) is reaching out to countries with the same zeal it has adopted in improving its own circumstances but it’s not there yet in terms of doing (it) by itself.”

The Bangkok-based ESCAP is tasked with ensuring an effective and efficient delivery of various U.N. development-related mandates in its 53 member countries.

A renowned environmental law expert, the Indian-born Ramakrishna took the helm of the subregional office in August 2011. It is the sole multilateral mechanism for this field in the region and has six members -- South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, Mongolia and North Korea.

He was formerly vice president and director of policy at the Woods Hole Research Center in Boston, and held various posts at the U.N. Environment Program including senior advisor on environmental law and conventions and deputy director for policy development and law.

“This region is a crucible of new ideas,” Ramakrishna said. “Korea has advanced green growth. Japan has advanced low-carbon growth. China talks about the eco-civilization concept. Mongolia talks about green development strategy. And Russia, not to be left behind, has a plan of its own as well.

“Our focus is sustainable development in a sense that integrates the three pillars of economic growth, social protection and environment protection.”

Established in 2010 in Incheon, the office carries out various studies and projects alone and with think tanks, universities and other organizations here. It has since 1987 been operating a fund worth about $300,000 a year in conjunction with the Seoul government to finance trade, transport, technology transfer and various other programs in needy countries.

In particular, Ramakrishna stressed the significance of its partnerships with nongovernmental institutions in promoting core U.N. values and principles.

UNESCAP-ENEA helped launch a regular summer course on sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region at Kyung Hee University last year, while giving a lecture and hosting expert group meetings at Seoul National University, Yonsei University, Korea University and elsewhere.

“There was a time when you could say the United Nations was all about working with member countries only. It is not true anymore -- we have to work with all relevant stakeholders,” he said.

“The more we increase awareness of what the U.N. stands for and why it is important, the more it is good for us. … It is not an elite organization; it is an organization whose purpose is to serve the people.”

On top of sustainable development, his agency is paying more attention to regional integration, with a major comprehensive study expected to come out in May.

Last month, ESCAP held a ministerial conference on the theme “Enhancing regional economic integration in Asia and the Pacific.” During the four-day event, senior policymakers and experts discussed an array of related issues including trading arrangements, connectivity, regional financial cooperation and ways to address shared vulnerabilities and risks.

“We are in the middle of completing a major study, the first of its kind ... (which will be) a comprehensive assessment of regional integration,” Ramakrishna said.

“It’s not just economic integration, but regional, social, cultural, educational and environmental as well.” 

(For more information, visit, or follow and @UN_EastAsia on Twitter.)

By Shin Hyon-hee (