South Korea’s trade minister drops bid to become WTO chief

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s top trade official is dropping her bid to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, making it likely the job will go to former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She would become the first woman to lead the organization.

South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement Friday that its minister for trade, Yoo Myung-hee, will soon tell the WTO she is withdrawing her candidacy.

The WTO, which makes world trade rules, announced in October that Yoo and Okonjo-Iweala were the two finalists to become its next director-general, ensuring a woman will fill the top job for the first time. The WTO had been expected to announce a winner before the end of 2020, but the process dragged on because of disagreements between member states over the candidates, the South Korean ministry said.

While it appeared Okonjo-Iweala had broader support, the WTO operates by consensus, which means that any single member country can block decisions.

The South Korean ministry said Yoo discussed her candidacy with officials from the United States and other WTO member states before deciding to withdraw over “comprehensive” considerations.

The Trump administration had opposed Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy. But President Joe Biden’s Office of the Trade Representative issued a statement Friday supporting her: “She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.’'

The previous WTO director-general, Roberto Azevedo of Brazil, made a surprise announcement in May last year that he would leave the job a year early, citing a “personal decision.” He left without a successor at the end of August.

The Geneva-based WTO, which was created in 1995 out of the former General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, has never had a woman or African as its leader.