The trade minister of South Korea, Yoo Myung-hee, has backed out on the race of becoming the head of the World Trade Organization, clearing the way for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the first woman and first African director-general.
Yoo stated this yesterday after consulting with the United States, her prime backer, and other major countries and “decided to renounce her candidacy.”
The process of naming a successor of Roberto Azevedo had since October been obstructed when the key WTO ambassadors choose Okonjo-Iweala as the best option to lead the organization. Still, the Trump administration had opposed her appointment.
The WTO head is usually selected by consensus, leaving the process at a standstill.
Observers insinuated that South Korea was under pressure from the United States, a security supporter that stations 28,500 troops in the country to defend it from the nuclear-armed North — to keep Yoo in the race.
At the same time, Seoul faced anger from African countries and others for not bowing out.
“Korea is stuck between a rock and a hard place,” one Western trade diplomat told AFP at the time.
South Korea’s decision to withdraw her candidate from WTO comes two weeks after Joe Biden was sworn in as the US president.
“South Korea will continue to make various contributions to rebuild and enhance the multilateral trade system,” the trade ministry statement said.
The WTO is widely recognized as being in dire need of reform, even before the Covid-19 crisis hit, it had wrestled with stalled trade talks and attempted to prevent frictions between the United States and China.
The global trade body has also encountered persistent raids from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organization altogether.