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Korean trade minister withdraws bid for WTO chief

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee speaks during a press conference held in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee speaks during a press conference held in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee announced Friday that she was dropping out of the race for the chief position at the World Trade Organization.

“I decided to resign as a candidate through close coordination with the US government, our solid ally, in order to facilitate reaching a consensus among the WTO member countries,” Yoo said during a press briefing in Seoul on Friday.

“I hope the WTO eases the leadership vacancy problem as soon as possible and restores multilateral trade orders and other major issues.”

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy added in a statement that Korea will continue to contribute to the rebuilding and enhancement of multilateralism. It also vowed to play a leading role in global issues, including reform of the WTO, as well as the digital economy and climate change.

The Korean trade minister had announced her bid in June to become the next director-general of the WTO. She emerged in October as one of two finalists, the other being Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

In November, Yoo fell behind Okonjo-Iweala in the final round of consultations among the global trade body’s 164 member states. The WTO proposed making Okonjo-Iweala the next WTO chief, but the selection process fell into limbo as the United States under the former Trump administration publicly endorsed Yoo.

The WTO General Council was set to formally endorse the Nigerian candidate at a special council meeting Nov. 9, but the US blocked it from doing so.

At the time, Korea’s Foreign Ministry denied rumors that Yoo might withdraw her candidacy.

The process of picking a new director-general of the WTO is based on consensus among all member states, meaning a single nation could block either Yoo or Okonjo-Iweala.

Last month, some news reports said Washington was actively considering whom to choose as the next WTO leader.

A decision by the US to support a certain candidate may be seen as an early sign of how US President Joe Biden plans to approach the global trade body.

Born in Seoul in 1967, Yoo graduated from Seoul National University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s in public policy. She also holds a J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School in the US.

In 2018 Yoo was appointed deputy minister of trade, becoming the first woman to achieve the rank since the ministry was established in 1948. The next year she was promoted to trade minister, breaking the glass ceiling again.

By Song Su-hyun (song@heraldcorp.com)
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