The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on Sunday that South Korean exports rose by 6.4 percent to USD 45.1 billion in December last year compared to the same period a year ago, while on-year imports rose by 7.3 percent to $38.1 billion.
Accordingly, the trade balance in December stood at a $7 billion surplus, remaining in the positive for the 59th consecutive month.
With the help of the positive growth of exports in November and December in a row, quarterly exports turned to positive territory for the first time in the fourth quarter of last year in the two years since 2014.
The driving force behind this export rebound was the rise in demand for major export goods in such areas as semiconductors, petrochemicals, flat displays and steel.
Outbound shipments of semiconductors, the best performer in exports, jumped 19.9 percent year-on-year thanks to an increase in prices from a growing demand for smartphone mobile chips, recording the highest monthly growth in the three years since December 2013.
Exports of steel products hit a record high for two consecutive months in the two years since December 2014, at 0.6 percent year-on-year, thanks to a hike in export unit prices resulting from a rise in raw material prices.
Exports in six sectors, including the automobile and ship industries, however, showed a downward growth trend in December. On-year car exports fell 7.9 percent to $4.02 billion last December due to the base effect in the previous year. Exports in the shipbuilding industry plummeted 14.1 percent to $2.23 billion from the same period last year.
By country, Korean exports soared 45.5 percent in Vietnam, followed by EU with a 30.8 percent increase and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with a 13.6 percent rise.
Korean exports to the EU were back on track, growing by 30.8 percent and turning positive in two months due to increases in the shipment, automobile and steel industries. Korean exports to Central America also turned positive in four months, growing 4.9 percent.
The Ministry projected exports in 2017 are expected to rise by 2.9 percent, depending on the expected performance of key export items including semiconductors, flat display panels, computers, petrochemicals, and steel goods.
Meanwhile, the outlook for imports remains positive at 7.2 percent thanks to an increase in imports of raw materials, affected by the expected recovery of oil prices. Growing demand for raw and subsidiary materials, lifted by the export rebound, also will help imports increased next year.
Accordingly, the country’s trade balance in 2017 is forecast at $75 billion.