Korea’s trade minister begins WTO chief bid

25-Jun-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Trade minister Yoo Myung-hee launched her campaign for the position of World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general, Wednesday, arguing the organisation needs to recover its lost functions of promoting trade pacts and settling disputes.

The bid comes as part of the government’s strategy to expand the country’s influence in the global trade order, after its involvement in clashes with neighbouring Japan. Tokyo delisted Seoul from its list of most preferred trading partners after imposing export controls on key industrial materials crucial to South Korean companies’ manufacture of semiconductors and flat panels.

“South Korea is the world’s seventh-largest exporter and one of the leading countries which have long supported the free trade order,” Yoo said during a press conference at the Sejong government Complex. “With the WTO-based trade order and international cooperation system at stake, recovering and enhancing them are significant for the Korean economy and its national interest.”

Yoo is the third Korean to run for the top position of the Geneva-based trade body. Former minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy Kim Chul-soo made a bid in 1994 and former Trade minister Bark Tae-ho attempted in 2012, but both failed to secure the position.

During the conference, Yoo said the WTO is “facing the greatest risk since its foundation in 1995″ as it has failed to achieve any new trade deal in the past 25 years, as well being unsuccessful in keeping up with the digital innovation that is happening worldwide.

“Since the end of last year, the WTO’s Appellate Body has been shut down, losing its dispute settlement function,” she said. “Global society is seeing escalating protectionism while the WTO’s basic principle of the free movement of goods and services is being neglected in the wake of COVID-19.”

Yoo claimed South Korea’s economic growth, based on the foundation of free trade networks, will help the body to recover its function in international cooperation in trade, and the country’s status as “a middle power” can suggest the vision that can be shared across the world.

She said the WTO is in “a stalemate,” failing to draw out meaningful outcomes in multilateral pacts and its reform agenda due to the conflict between developed and developing nations.

To address this, she wants to “upgrade” WTO agreements to restore its “negotiating function” so that the body can see tangible outcomes in dispute settlement, e-commerce rules and other fields which require urgent attention.

With regard to Japan’s imposition of export controls, Seoul filed a complaint with the WTO in September last year, but suspended the follow-up process pending further negotiations with Tokyo. However, it resumed the procedure June 18, by requesting the WTO to open a dispute-settlement panel.

So far, the efficacy of this has faced questions due to the possibility of the case reaching the Appellate Body, which has been shut down. The shutdown has caused concern for not only Korea but also other WTO members as many cases will likely end up seeing no meaningful result. Yoo’s pledge to restore the WTO’s negotiating function appears to be in line with resolving this matter.

The government said Yoo’s candidacy has “received unanimous approval and support from the ministerial Meeting on International Economic Affairs,” the top decision-making body dealing with Korea’s international economic policies. The candidacy was formally submitted to the WTO through Korea’s Permanent Mission in Geneva, Wednesday.

“Yoo is a well-respected leader and an expert in trade policy circles within Korea and abroad,” the government said in an English statement. “She has a proven track-record of designing, negotiating and implementing trade deals, as well as developing innovative trade-related policies in domestic, bilateral and multilateral settings.”



Category: Korea

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