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Trade

South Korea's trade minister announces bid to lead WTO

Amid Seoul-Tokyo export spat, Yoo vows to reform body under fire from Trump

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said Wednesday she is running to be the next director general of the WTO. (Yonhap/Kyodo)

SEOUL -- South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee on Wednesday announced her bid to lead the World Trade Organization, vowing to save the troubled body from mounting protectionism and attacks from U.S. President Donald Trump.

In launching her campaign to become director-general, Yoo said the organization was facing its biggest crisis since its establishment 25 years ago. Trump has said that the WTO has been too soft on China and has threatened several times to withdraw the U.S. from the body.

"The time has come that we play a leading role to resume international cooperation in the WTO," Yoo said at a news conference. "South Korea can play a role of bridge, connecting developing countries and advanced countries."

Yoo, 53, is a lifelong bureaucrat who has been involved in many trade deals and negotiations including an FTA with the U.S.

Her announcement comes amid a dispute between South Korea and Japan over export restrictions.

Seoul said earlier this month that it will resume dispute settlement proceedings over Japan's export controls, citing a lack of progress over talks to resolve trade disputes rooted in wartime history.

In July last year, Japan imposed curbs on exports to South Korea of three materials used to make semiconductors and displays, threatening a pillar of the South Korean economy and the global supply chain of tech components. Seoul complained to the WTO about Japan's move in September, but in November suspended the proceedings for further talks.

The two countries are also at loggerheads over the use of Koreans as workers for Japanese companies during World War II, the Japanese military's use of so-called comfort women in wartime brothels, and the sovereignty of tiny islets in the sea between the two countries.

Yoo, however, said that her candidacy will not affect South Korea's export control dispute with Japan

"The WTO director-general is not a post for representing a specific country in a specific case. I'd better focus on helping the conflict-resolution process work properly if elected," Yoo said.

So far, four countries -- Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt and Moldova -- have nominated candidates for the four-year post.

The current director-general, Brazil's Roberto Azevedo, is set to step down in August, about a year before the end of his term.

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