Interview: WTO contender Yoo vows to reform WTO

Source: Xinhua| 2020-08-26 17:59:55|Editor: huaxia

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, who is running for director-general of the World Trade Organization, said if she is chosen to lead the global trade body, she would push for reforms to restore trust in the agency amid a weakening global economy striken by COVID-19.

"The WTO is facing profound challenges, both externally and internally. (The WTO is facing) maybe the biggest crisis since it was launched," Yoo said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

She said "strains to global trade" were caused by the sluggish global economic growth combined with weak demand, and rising protectionism and trade tensions.

The COVID-19 pandemic "added fuel" to the worsening global trade, which contracted in 2019 for the first time since 2009, said Yoo.

"What's more concerning is that the WTO has not been able to pull its weight amid this growing uncertainty," she noted.

South Korea nominated Yoo as one of the eight contenders for the WTO top job, after incumbent WTO chief Roberto Azevedo unexpectedly announced his resignation for Aug. 31, a year before his term expires.

Yoo became South Korea's first female trade minister, starting her 25-year trade career in 1995 when the WTO was born. She took charge of WTO affairs in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Throughout her career, she led many of South Korea's bilateral free trade agreement negotiations and represented Seoul in regional trade talks.

To rejuvenate the free, multilateral trade system, Yoo emphasized the need to rebuild trust and renew the three pillars of the WTO: negotiation, dispute resolution and transparency. She said doing so would make the Geneva-based body "more relevant, resilient and responsive."

"We need to go back to the basics. The three pillars of the WTO need to work together and reinforce each other to maintain a well-functioning system," Yoo said.

The veteran trade negotiator pledged to revitalize the negotiation function of the WTO by updating its rulebook in a bid to reflect new economic realities and "agree on new rules and lessen the burden on the dispute settlement system."

Yoo picked addressing the impasse in the Appellate Body, seen as the supreme court for global trade disputes, as an "urgent" need.

The Appellate Body requires at least three out of seven judges to be able to function, but the U.S. government has blocked new appointments for judges for over two years claiming that the court went beyond its official work.

"I believe the role of the director-general is even more critical at this infection point ... Based on the reality assessment, but with members' collective energy and will, I believe we can move forward at this time," Yoo noted.

To fight against protectionist moves, strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Yoo said "we need the three pillars of the WTO to work effectively."

"The very reason why we have established the WTO is to collectively resist protectionist pressures of all kinds ... Back in 2008 after the financial crisis, the WTO was there to play such a role at the center of the fight against protectionist pressures," said the trade minister.

Touching on trade tensions, Yoo said it was ascribable to the "lack of progress at the WTO."

"If the WTO fails to reinvent itself, more countries, more members (of the WTO), might be compelled to resort to their own way of dealing with the disputes. So, it is all the more important to revitalize the WTO system," Yoo said. Enditem