The Korea Herald


WTO kicks off selection process for new chief

By Ahn Sung-mi

Published : Sept. 7, 2020 - 15:26

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Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee departs for Geneva from Incheon International Airport, Aug. 31. (Yonhap) Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee departs for Geneva from Incheon International Airport, Aug. 31. (Yonhap)

The World Trade Organization is kicking off the selection process for its new director general this week, with South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee vying with seven other candidates for the job.
The selection process starts on Monday by Geneva time, where representatives from 164 members states are to voice their preference among the eight candidates to the selection committee, made up of David Walker, WTO General Council chair, Dacio Castillo, chair of the Dispute Settlement Body, and Harald Aspelund, chair of the Trade Policy Review Body. The “confessionals” involve three rounds of consultations, narrowing down the list of the candidates until a winner emerges. 
The first round of consultations will run through Sept. 16, in which each member state will indicate a maximum of four picks and eliminate the bottom three candidates. The second round will drop three more candidates and the remaining two will advance to the final round. The leader will be picked based on consensus, which is expected by early November at the latest.
The WTO has been leaderless since Robert Azevedo stepped down a year early from the director general position on Aug. 31, after seven years at the helm.
The prevailing view here is that Yoo has a clear edge over other candidates, with her expertise and experience in ushering in weighty trade deals, and will likely pass the first round. If Yoo wins, she will become the first woman as well as the first Korean to lead the WTO.
She is competing with other high-profile contenders -- from Nigeria, Egypt, Moldova, the UK, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Mexico -- who all vow to salvage the 25-year-old multilateral body beset with challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic and US-China trade war.
Two other women are widely viewed as front-runners: Amina Mohamed, currently Kenya’s sports minister and a former foreign affairs minister who has chaired the WTO’s General Council, and Ngozi Okonjo-lweala of Nigeria, a two-time finance minister who was the No. 2 official at the World Bank. If either wins, they would be the WTO’s first African boss as well as the first woman in the role.
During the campaign that began in July, Yoo pledged to reform the WTO to make it more “relevant, resilient and responsive,” taking on a multilateral institution that faced long-standing challenges even before the COVID-19 pandemic crippled global trade and caused a deep recession.
Yoo departed to Geneva for her campaign on Aug. 31, and plans to meet with representatives from the member states to ask for their support through mid-September.
Yoo was appointed Korea’s trade minister in February 2019, becoming the first woman to achieve the rank since the ministry was established in 1948. Over the course of her nearly 25-year public service career in trade, she led major bilateral negotiations, including free trade talks with the US, China, Singapore, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as Seoul’s chief negotiator.
By Ahn Sung-mi (