South Korean candidate contesting for the World Trade Organization, WTO, Yoo Myung-hee, has dropped out of the race.

South Korea’s exit effectively opens the door for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become WTO first African leader.

In a statement, Yoo, the South Korean Trade Minister, said that she had been “in consultation with major countries such as the United States” over the consensus vote to become the next director-general of the WTO.
Nigerian candidate Okonjo-Iweala had been recommended by top WTO officials to lead the Geneva body in October, after being judged to have had majority support among members, but the appointment was blocked by the United States under the Trump administration.

Former US trade representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer said that her opponent, Yoo, “is a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policymaker”.

Okonjo-Iweala had the key backing of China, the European Union, and Japan.

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Yoo’s decision may signal a softening in the US stance towards the WTO.

At the end of January, after Biden’s inauguration, the US supported a statement calling for “the swift appointment of a new WTO director-general, as well as the confirmation of the date and venue of the 12th Ministerial Conference”.

Yoo’s statement said that Seoul will “continue to contribute in various ways to strengthen the restoration of the multilateral trading system as a responsible trading powerhouse”.