Will Moon's support for Yoo's WTO chief election bear fruit? – Korea Times

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President Moon Jae-in speaks on the phone with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae
President Moon Jae-in speaks on the phone with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae


By Do Je-hae

Attention is being paid on whether President Moon Jae-in and other top government officials’ diplomatic efforts to seek international support for Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, the Korean finalist in the race for the new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), will lead to the desired result.

The situation for the Korean candidate is not entirely favorable, according to foreign media reports, but Moon is making last-ditch attempts to produce the first head of an international organization since former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon more than a decade ago.

President Moon spoke on the phone with Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau, Tuesday, to ask for the support of Canada, the leader of the Ottawa Group comprised of 10 WTO member states and the EU that discusses responses to specific challenges to the multilateral trading system. Korea is a part of the group, along with New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway and Brazil.

In the phone call, Moon talked about Yoo’s expertise in trade as well as her political leadership and extensive network as an incumbent trade minister. Trudeau highly assessed the Korean candidate’s experience and qualifications, according to Cheong Wa Dae.

This was the latest in a series of phone calls with heads of states Moon has initiated as part of his efforts to have Yoo elected as chief of the world trade body. He has spoken with the leaders of Kazakhstan, India, Denmark, Luxembourg, Italy, Egypt and Malaysia since the final round of the selection process began Oct. 19. The WTO is expected to wrap up the process this week before announcing the final results sometime early next month.

But it has to be seen whether the last-minute efforts will bear fruit, as Moon’s Tuesday call came amid some international media reports that Africa and the EU, which take up a big portion of WTO membership, are set to get behind Yoo’s rival, the Nigerian-born economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who holds U.S. citizenship. Japan is also not enthusiastic about Yoo’s candidacy due to a complaint filed at the WTO by Seoul against Tokyo’s export restrictions imposed on Korea in July 2019 on materials crucial to the country’s high-tech sector.

Experts say international economic diplomacy will have a definitive influence on the outcome. Another factor to look for is the U.S. presidential election, which could delay the final election process.

“As with any such position, each candidate has plusses and minuses, and it is the push and pull of international economic diplomacy that will determine the final outcome. And it is still possible that the final selection might be delayed until after the U.S elections,” Rohinton P. Medhora, president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, based in Ontario, Canada, told The Korea Times.

“Once appointed, the successful candidate has a fiduciary and moral obligation to the exigencies of her job, not to her home country. If Minister Yoo is indeed the successful candidate, and if she guides the WTO into a new era of relevance and effectiveness, then it would be her accomplishment, that of the WTO member states, and of course of South Korea, for having nurtured a leader of this capability.”