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DJ WTO Leadership Race Narrows to One After South Korean Candidate Exits

· 02/05/2021 05:54
By Eun-Young Jeong

SEOUL--South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said she would step out of the race to lead the World Trade Organization, potentially reanimating the stalled process of selecting a new chief.

Ms. Yoo's announcement Friday leaves one candidate, former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in the WTO leadership race. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala had previously received support from governments across Africa, the European Union and the Caribbean to become the organization's director-general but had failed to gain backing from the Trump administration. The WTO selects its head through a consensus-building process, not an outright election.

Ms. Yoo said she decided to resign to facilitate a consensus for the next director-general after consulting with the U.S.

"I look forward to the WTO quickly resolving its leadership vacuum to tackle its key tasks, including restoring order in multilateral trade," Ms. Yoo said at a press conference in Seoul.

WTO leadership selection, which has no deadline, has been formally suspended since October and can resume any time. In theory, the selection board could present another consensus candidate, but the strong likelihood is that Ms. Okonjo-Iwaela will again be submitted for the role.

Ms. Yoo said discussions about her candidacy between the U.S. and South Korea had continued throughout Washington's transition from the Trump to Biden administration. She said South Korea would participate in future consensus building to identify the trade organization's head.

Ms. Yoo, 53, is a lifelong bureaucrat who became South Korea's first female trade minister in 2019. She has been credited with leading South Korea in trade negotiations with the U.S. and other world powers during her career.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, 66 years old, previously a top World Bank official, has pitched her managerial experience and work as board chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance as ideal preparation to steer the WTO's focus on the trade challenges of a global health crisis.

Write to Eun-Young Jeong at Eun-Young.Jeong@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 05, 2021 05:54 ET (10:54 GMT)

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