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Economy

Korea 2021 exports hit record on strong sales of key products

Total trade posts all-time high to become the world’s No. 8 trading country; 2022 outlook less rosy

By Jan 02, 2022 (Gmt+09:00)

Container terminals at the Port of Busan, South Korea
Container terminals at the Port of Busan, South Korea

South Korea’s exports last year hit a record on strong sales of key products such as semiconductors, automobiles and petrochemicals.

Exports surged 25.8% to $644.5 billion in 2021 on-year, the largest since the country started compiling such data in 1956 according to preliminary data from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Jan. 1. The previous high was $604.9 billion in 2018.

Imports last year also jumped 31.5% to $615.1 billion, pushing up total trade to an all-time high of $1.3 trillion. The country ranked the world’s eighth-largest by trade, beating Italy for the first time in nine years.

“We have achieved balanced growth both in quantity and quality,” said a ministry official.

DOUBLE-DIGIT GROWTH IN ALL 15 KEY ITEM EXPORTS

Overseas sales of all of 15 key products including chips, petrochemicals and cars reported double-digit growth for the first time since 2000. Exports of semiconductors and automobiles expanded 29% and 24.2%, respectively, while shipments of petrochemicals and steel grew 54.8% and 37%, respectively.

Exports of high value-added products soared. Shipments of system semiconductors rose 31.3%, while exports of eco-friendly cars such as electric vehicles increased 51.7%. Overseas sales of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) expanded 33.2%. Bio-health and secondary battery logged record exports, becoming new growth engines of the 15 core products.

Sales to all nine major overseas markets including the US, China and the European Union rose for the first time since 2011. Exports to China and the US rose 22.9% and 29.4%, respectively. Shipments to the EU jumped 33.9%, while sales to Latin America and India soared 32.4% and 30.8%, respectively.

In December, total exports rose 18.3% to $60.7 billion from a year earlier, marking a 14th straight month of growth. Imports jumped 37.4% to $61.3 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $590 million. It was the first time for South Korea to report a monthly trade of more than $120 billion.

Exports, however, are unlikely to sustain such strong expansion this year, given a sustained US-China trade war and global supply disruption, a survey showed.

Overseas sales are predicted to rise 3.2% in 2022, according to a poll of 1,000 major exporters commissioned by the Korea Economic Research Institute and conducted by market research firm Mono Research.

Write to Ji-Hoon Lee at lizi@hankyung.com

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.
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