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Trade

South Korea's Yoo Myung-hee named in final two for top WTO job

Trade minister competes against Nigerian for job of mediating between US and China

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee is one of two women vying for the top job at the World Trade Organization.   © AP

SEOUL -- South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee was selected Thursday as one of two candidates, both female, to run the World Trade Organization.

The Geneva-based agency said Yoo and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister in Nigeria, passed the second round of the process to succeed Roberto Azevedo as director-general. The winner will be decided by consensus after the next round of consultations that the WTO said will run through Oct. 27.

Three candidates, from Kenya, Saudi Arabia and the U.K., have been eliminated. If elected, Yoo would be the second Asian to head the organization, after Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi, who led the agency in the early 2000s.

The announcement comes at a difficult time for the WTO. U.S. President Donald Trump has been attacking the organization, saying it is unfair to the country's interests. Trump has also slapped additional tariffs on Chinese goods and taken other protectionist measures.

The term is four years, and the new chief will have a chance to run for a second term. Azevedo, a Brazilian, stepped down in August, one year before his second term expired.

South Korea's presidential Blue House celebrated the announcement, vowing to support Yoo, 53, until she becomes the trade body's chief.

Yoo is a lifelong bureaucrat who has spent her 30-year career in the trade and foreign ministries.

"Our biggest challenge lies ahead," President Moon Jae-in told his senior secretaries. "Please make all possible efforts... We should support her with every measure we can muster."

Yoo has vowed to reform the WTO by restoring and reinforcing multilateral systems, as well as mediating between the U.S. and China, the two most powerful member countries. She said her experience as a negotiator with the U.S. and working experience in China will help her achieve her goal.

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