SEOUL: South Korea’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee said on Friday (Feb 5) she has withdrawn from the race to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO), clearing the way for members to appoint the first African and the first woman to lead the global trade watchdog.
After consultation with its 164 members, a WTO selection panel recommended Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as chief in October, but opposition from the US administration of former President Donald Trump prevented her being confirmed.
In the more then three months since, the US-backed Yoo had not withdrawn from the race despite mounting diplomatic pressure to bow out.
“In order to promote the functions of WTO and in consideration of various factors, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy,” Yoo said in a statement.
Yoo, who was a finalist selected from among eight candidates to lead the body, said her decision was made after consulting with allies including the United States.
There was no immediate comment from Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister and World Bank executive, nor from the WTO whose members would have to meet again to make a final choice on the next chief.
The body has been without a leader since August when Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo stepped down a year early.
Observers say the WTO is facing the deepest crisis in its 25-year history. It has not clinched a major multilateral trade deal in years and some of its functions are paralysed due to the actions of the former Trump administration.
Its top appeals body that arbitrates on trade disputes is inoperable because the US refused judge appointments, accusing the body of overstepping its mandate.
Many hope that the change of US administration will lead to reform of the organisation.
However, Washington under President Joe Biden has not yet publicly said who it is supporting as its next head although it said it is actively considering the question.
It also said that it is committed to “positive, constructive and active engagement” on reforming the body.