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(LEAD) S. Korean candidate behind Nigerian rival in global trade-chief race

All News 06:53 October 29, 2020

(ATTN: REWRITES dateline; UPDATES with U.S. stances in paras 8-12)

GENEVA/SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's trade minister has failed to drum up landslide support from member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to head the global trade body, with her Nigerian rival standing ahead in a two-way race, the outcome of a WTO General Council meeting showed Wednesday.

The WTO said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria has garnered more support from the WTO's 164 member states than South Korea's Yoo Myung-hee.

As the process to pick the 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, South Korea believes its candidate may have room to turn the tables.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell earlier said 27 delegations had taken the floor during the latest General Council meeting and that one member state has expressed its continued support for Yoo.

"That delegation was (the) United States of America," Rockwell was quoted as telling reporters, according to a report by Reuters.

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, who is running for the top post at the World Trade Organization (WTO), speaks during a reception with member nations' ambassadors in Geneva on Oct. 16, 2020. (Yonhap)

"The chairman of the WTO General Council said the council plans to endorse the candidate who emerges from the process of securing the consensus of all member states as the next WTO director-general at a special council meeting to be held Nov. 9," South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

It added the WTO did not release how many votes each candidate garnered.

The United States expressed support for the selection of Yoo as the next WTO director-general.

"Minister Yoo is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker. She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organization," the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement uploaded on its website.

The USTR said the WTO and international trade have faced a difficult time as there have been no multilateral tariff talks in 25 years and the dispute settlement system has gotten "out of control."

"The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field," it said.

Japan is supporting Yoo's rival and the picks of China and other major economies still remain unclear.

Whoever is chosen will become the first female chief in the organization's history.

The winner will replace former Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down in August, a year earlier than his original term.

Yoo has been one of the two finalists in the third round of the selection process, which started Oct. 19, for the new chief of the 25-year-old organization.

Candidates from six other countries dropped out of the competition in previous rounds.

During her campaign, Yoo vowed to focus on rebuilding trust in the multilateral trade system by making it more "relevant, resilient and responsive" if she is picked as the new WTO leader.

President Moon Jae-in requested a slew of member countries to support Yoo during his phone talks with their leaders as well.

But Okonjo-Iweala also has been cited as one of the most competitive candidates, based on her experience of working at the World Bank. She served as the Nigerian finance minister two times and as a foreign minister.

The looming protectionism amid the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the growing trade row between the United States and China, are among the tasks for the new head of the WTO.

Yoo, meanwhile, is the third South Korean to run for the top post of the Geneva-based trade body. South Koreans made unsuccessful bids in 1994 and 2012.

Her candidacy came amid a growing trade row between South Korea and Japan. Seoul reopened its complaint at the WTO recently, as Japan has remained unresponsive to its repeated requests to lift the regulations.

colin@yna.co.kr
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