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S. Korean trade minister holds virtual meeting with new WTO chief

All News 17:00 March 30, 2021

By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, March 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee on Tuesday held a virtual meeting with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and voiced joint support for free trade amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

During the meeting, Yoo and Okonjo-Iweala vowed to make progress in normalizing the role of the WTO before the upcoming 12th ministerial conference of the WTO, which is slated for November this year, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

The two especially shared opinions to make joint efforts to come up with a blueprint to revamp the WTO's role in mediating trade disputes. The dispute-settlement body of the WTO has been suspended since December 2019 as the Donald Trump administration declined to name new members of the appellate body.

This image shows South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee (L) and WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

South Korea and the WTO agreed to find ways to expand cooperation to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

Yoo said the WTO made significant progress in the supply of COVID-19 vaccines around the globe and suggested that South Korea's capabilities in production of vaccines can also lend hands to other nations.

The two acknowledged that the global trade of medical supplies should not be limited amid the COVID-19 pandemic, expressing concerns over the export ban on vaccines imposed by some countries.

Yoo also requested the WTO to give more opportunities to South Korean officials to be stationed at the organization, pointing out that only four South Koreans are working at the body, while Asia's No. 4 economy was responsible for 2.9 percent of the budget.

The two vowed to lower gender barriers in the trade segment and help more women benefit from free trade. Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman to head the WTO.

It marked the first time for Yoo and Okonjo-Iweala to hold a meeting since the latest race for the top post at the WTO.

Last month, Yoo withdrew her bid to lead the Geneva-based organization, clearing the way for her Nigerian rival to take the post. Yoo was one of the two finalists. Candidates from six other countries dropped out of the competition in previous rounds.

While Okonjo-Iweala garnered more support than Yoo from the WTO's 164 member states, the South Korean candidate took a wait-and-see approach as the process to pick a new leader at the WTO is based on consensus, not a majority vote.

The U.S., under the previous Trump administration, had expressed support for Yoo.

S. Korean trade minister holds virtual meeting with new WTO chief - 2

colin@yna.co.kr
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