Korean candidate shoots for WTO's top job

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Korean candidate shoots for WTO's top job

Korea Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee prepares to announce that she is running for WTO director-general at the Trade Ministry's office in Sejong on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

Korea Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee prepares to announce that she is running for WTO director-general at the Trade Ministry's office in Sejong on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

 
Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee officially announced she is running for director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  
 
If Yoo succeeds, she would be the first woman to head the international trade organization and the first Korean.  
 
“[My goal] will be focusing on restoring international cooperation so that multilateral trade will function again,” Yoo said during a press briefing on Wednesday.  
 
“The WTO is facing the biggest crisis since its establishment,” Yoo said. “It does not reflect the changes of the 21st century such as the fourth industrial revolution and digital innovation.”  
 
She particularly noted that since late last year, the WTO has lost its ability to settle trade disputes due to a crisis with its Appellate Body. Six of the seven seats on the Appellate Body have been vacant since December, and to review appeals of trade disputes, a three-member quorum is required. Appointments of new members were blocked by the U.S. delegation.  
 
“Trade protectionism is getting worse internationally and the WTO has failed to defend its basic principle of free exchanges of goods and service faced with the global crisis known as Covid-19,” Yoo said.  
 
She said Korea — the world’s seventh leading exporter and world's ninth largest trader — has the experience and capacity to restore order in trade and international cooperation.
 
“Korea has grown thanks to free trade under the regulations and order established by the WTO,” Yoo said. “Korea has a FTA network with countries that account for 78 percent of the world’s GDP.”
 
In the current climate, the perspective of a country that can act as a bridge between advanced economies and developing countries is important.  
 
“Korea has built its capacity through its trade growth, vision and global trust built from multiple FTAs,” Yoo said. “Korea could play the role of the bridge connecting developing countries with advanced countries.”  
 
Even if she becomes director-general of the WTO, Yoo said, it would not affect the ongoing tensions between Korea and Japan over the Japanese government’s export controls that began nearly a year ago.  
 
“The director-general position at the WTO is not a position that advocates a certain dispute or a certain country,” Yoo said. “The main role, I believe, is to encourage WTO member countries in their [trade] activities and provide a clear vision and appropriate direction."
 
She said disputes that are brought to the WTO should be handled fairly and on legal principle regardless of the nationality of its director-general.  
 
On Japan's export restrictions, she said the Korean government is clear that the action is a violation of WTO rules.
 
The Korean government earlier this month announced it decided to submit its complaint on Japan’s export control to the WTO.  
 
Late last year, Seoul held back the complaint to try to resolve the issue.  
 
This is Korea's third try at the WTO director-general position.  
 
The first was in 1994 and the second in 2012.  
 
The highest position that a Korean official has taken at the WTO is deputy director-general, held by former Trade Minister Kim Chul-su in 1995.
 
Yoo, a career civil servant since 1991, specializes in trade. She was involved in the bilateral FTA between Korean and the United States.
 
WTO chief Roberto Azevedo unexpectedly resigned in May with a year remaining in his term.  
 
Aside from Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt and Moldova are vying for the position.  
 
BY LEE HO-JEONG   [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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