South Korean Yoo Myung-hee, new Director General of the WTO

21Oct 2020
The Guardian
South Korean Yoo Myung-hee, new Director General of the WTO

It is no longer a dream but a reality, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a global trade watch-dog, is for the first time going to be led by a woman.

Out of eight candidates who were nominated by their respective governments for the post of WTO Director-General, three of them were women from South Korea (Yoo Myung-hee), Kenya (Ambassador Amina C. Mohamed) and Nigeria (Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala).

But now, deservedly so, two women candidates from South Korea and Nigeria are battling out to the position. The fact that they have reached the finals of the ‘competition’, it shows that they are competent.

All signs show that the South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, will win the race to become the first female boss of the WTO. She looks more experienced in areas of international trade than her counterpart.

Yoo, 53 years old, is known for outstanding negotiation and mediation skills to build consensus whereby she led her country successfully conclude multiple bilateral Multilateral Free Trade Areas (FTAs) with major economic powers including the US, China, European Union and ASEAN.

Yoo who has 25 years of field experience presents herself as a “bridge” candidate, aiming to overcome the divide between the United States and China, and also between rich countries and developing nations.

Experts point to her extensive experience in senior diplomatic and political roles within South Korea, a country experienced at balancing its relationship between its crucial ally the United States, and China, which is by far its most important trading partner.

Yoo is also seeking support from representatives of developing countries and she reminds them of South Korea’s economic progress since the 1950s, linked to increased trade. She told a webinar organized by the Chatham House think tank in London that “inclusiveness and sustainability” are important for the WTO because it should “address the concerns of people and countries which have not gained much benefited from trade.”

“Many countries believe that there is a positive role for the multilateral trading system and there are currently 23 aspiring members to the WTO. But the system needs to change, adapt and evolve, in step with changing realities and changing times,” Yoo told Chatham House.

She believes if she will win, her country will be able to serve as a bridge between global trading hemispheres based on Korea’s growth experience through trade.

“The international community is increasingly becoming more protectionist…in order for the WTO overcome the current crisis, the role of the middle power (new boss) to mediate conflicts among member states is important,” said Yoo in June

If elected, Yoo is expected to successfully reform the WTO and transparently and reasonably coordinate the conflict of interest between US and China and between developing and developed nations in an ‘’unbiased” manner.

In South Korea, Yoo is highly regarded as a person who has greatly contributed in growing the country into advanced country from developing one through her 25 year-career in public service. Korea is a good example of countries that have economically advanced because of trade.

Her vision is also to contribute to the economic growth of developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia Pacific by sharing experience of how Korea has achieved the rapid and rigid economic development within few decades.

Yoo will prioritize being an impartial leader of International trade to represent all member countries at WTO, not just Korea.

According to the General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand the appointment process for the next Director-General formally commenced on 8th June 2020 with nominations accepted from that date until 8 July 2020.

At the end of the nomination period, eight candidates were nominated by their respective governments. From 15 to 17 July, all of the candidates met with WTO members at a special General Council meeting, at which they had the opportunity to present their views and take questions from the membership.

The second phase of the process in which the candidates “made themselves known to members” ended on 7 September. On that date, the third phase begun.

Ambassador Walker, together with the Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body (Dacio Castillo of Honduras) and the Chair of the Trade Policy Review Body (Harald Aspelund of Iceland), started to consult with all WTO members to assess their preferences and sought to determine which candidate was best placed to attract consensus support.

First round of consultations took place between 7 and 16 September. This was followed by two more rounds, during which the number of candidates were reduced from eight to five and down to two for the final round.

Final consultations for the two candidates are expected to be concluded on 27th October 2020.

Other male candidates who participated in early stages are Mr Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), Dr Jesús Seade Kuri (Mexico), Dr Liam Fox (UK), Mr Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova) and Mr Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia) to succeed the current Director-General, Mr Roberto Azevêdo, who has announced he will step down on 31 August 2020.