WTO DG Job: Coast Clear for Okonjo-Iweala as South Korean, Yoo Withdraws

South Korean trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee on Friday withdrew her bid to iead the World Trade Organization, Seoul said, clearing the way for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister to become the only remaining candidate for the job.

Yoo had consulted with the United States — her prime backer — and other major countries and “decided to renounce her candidacy”, South Korea’s trade ministry said in a statement.

The process to name a successor to Roberto Azevedo had been deadlocked since October when key WTO ambassadors tipped Okonjo-Iweala as the best pick to lead the organisation but the Trump administration maintained its opposition to her appointment.

The WTO head is normally chosen by consensus, leaving the process at abeyance.

Observers suggested that South Korea was under pressure from the United States — a security ally 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 an international news agency at the time.

The South’s decision to withdraw her candidacy comes two weeks after Joe Biden was sworn in as the new 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 seen as being in need of reform — even before the Covid-19 crisis hit, it had grappled with stalled trade talks and struggled to curb tensions between the United States and China.

The global trade body has also faced relentless attacks from Washington, which has crippled the WTO dispute settlement appeal system and threatened to leave the organisation altogether.

The Nigerian economist it would be recalled, who is also a U.S. citizen, emerged as the front-runner for the WTO director-general post last year. The U.S. has been the only country to oppose her.

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