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WTO starts selection process for chief

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Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee departs for Geneva from Incheon International Airport, Aug. 31. Yonhap

WTO starts selection process for chief

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Monday kicked off the selection process for its new director-general, with South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Yoo Myung-hee vying with seven other candidates for the job.

During the process, representatives from 164 member states are to voice their preference among the eight candidates to the selection committee, made up of WTO General Council chair David Walker, Dispute Settlement Body chair Dacio Castillo and Trade Policy Review Body chair Harald Aspelund.

The “confessionals” involve three rounds of consultations, narrowing down the list of the candidates until a winner emerges.

The first round of consultations will run through September 16, in which each member state will indicate a maximum of four picks and eliminate the bottom three candidates.

The second round will drop three more candidates and the remaining two will advance to the final round. The leader will be picked based on consensus, which is expected by early November at the latest.

The WTO has been leaderless since Robert Azevedo stepped down a year early from the director-general position on August 31, after seven years at the helm.

The prevailing view in her native South Korea is that Yoo has a clear edge over other candidates, with her expertise and experience in ushering in weighty trade deals, and will likely pass the first round.

If Yoo wins, she will become the first woman as well as the first Korean to lead the WTO.

She is competing with other high-profile contenders – from Nigeria, Egypt, Moldova, the UK, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Mexico – who all vow to salvage the 25-year-old multilateral body beset with challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic and Sino-US trade war.

Two other women are widely viewed as front-runners – Amina Mohamed, currently Kenya’s sports minister and a former foreign affairs minister who has chaired the WTO’s General Council, and Ngozi Okonjo-lweala of Nigeria, a two-time finance minister who was the number-two official at the World Bank.

If either wins, they would be the WTO’s first African boss as well as the first woman in the role.

During the campaign that began in July, Yoo pledged to reform the WTO to make it more “relevant, resilient and responsive”, taking on a multilateral institution that faced long-standing challenges even before the Covid-19 pandemic crippled global trade and caused a deep recession.

Yoo departed to Geneva for her campaign on August 31 and plans to meet with representatives from the member states to ask for their support through mid-September.

She was appointed Korea’s trade minister in February last year, becoming the first woman to achieve the rank since the ministry was established in 1948.

Throughout her nearly 25-year public service career in the trade, she led major bilateral negotiations, including free trade talks with the US, China, Singapore, India and ASEAN, as Seoul’s chief negotiator.



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