The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on January 1 that Korea’s exports surged by 15.8 percent to a record $573.9 billion in 2017 from a year earlier.
Exports of goods expanded at a double-digit rate for the first time in six years since 2011, surpassing the previous record of $572.7 billion set in 2014, despite the fact that there were 1.5 fewer working days compared to the said year. The average daily export reached an all-time high of $2.1 billion.
With imports expanding by 17.7 percent to $478.1 billion, Korea’s total annual trade volume exceeded 1 trillion won for the first time since 2014. According to the Ministry’s analysis of preliminary customs data, the trade surplus came to $ 95.8 billion.
The record-high annual outbound shipments were driven by a significant growth in semiconductor exports, which exceeded $90 billion. Exports in Korea’s 13 major product categories as well as overseas shipments of high-value products and promising consumer goods all grew at double-digit rates.
Semiconductor exports soared by 57.4 percent year-on-year to $97.9 billion due to the high demand for memory chips and their rising prices. This is a higher amount than Korea’s total exports of goods in 1994, which was worth $96 billion.
Overseas shipments in five other product categories, including petroleum products, ships, petrochemicals, steel, and general machinery, expanded at double-digit rates. General machinery became Korea’s second-biggest exports after semiconductors as their overseas shipments grew by 10.2 percent to an all-time high of $48.7 billion on the recovery of construction industries in major economies and facility investments in emerging markets.
Rising oil prices helped boost exports of petroleum products and petrochemicals by 31.7 percent to $34.9 billion and 23.5 percent to $44.7 billion, respectively. Exports of ships jumped by 23.6 percent to $42.4 billion, and steel exports by 20 percent to $34.2 billion.
Exports data also showed that in 2017, Korean industries made progress on improving the values of goods sold overseas and diversifying them.
Outbound shipments of each of the three high-tech, high-value products—multi-chip packages (MCPs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays—hit a record high, growing by more than 30 percent. Exports of consumer products including cosmetics, household goods, and medicine and medical supplies expanded at double-digit rates.
Shipments to all major markets, except the Middle East, accelerated, with those to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, Vietnam, and India reaching high records.
Exports to the ASEAN climbed by 27.8 percent to $95.2 billion as more semiconductors and displays were shipped to Korean firms’ manufacturing bases in the region. The growth in shipments of petrochemicals and steel led a 30 percent increase in exports to India that reached $15 billion. Shipments to China jumped by 14.2 percent to $142.1 billion, the third highest on record.
Exports to four other markets ranging from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the European Union (EU) to Central and South America and Japan also increased at double-digit rates.
Brisk domestic production and exports helped drive up imports by 17.7 percent to $478.1 billion in 2017. Inbound shipments of capital goods increased by 33.2 percent as imports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment more than doubled. Imports of commodities and intermediary goods expanded by 32.9 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively.
In December, exports rose by 8.9 percent year-on-year to $49.1 billion, marking the 14th consecutive month of growth, and imports jumped by 13 percent to $43.3 billion.
Monthly outbound shipments of both semiconductors and general machinery reached the second highest on record, surging by 64.9 percent to $9.7 billion and 11.1 percent to $4.5 billion, respectively.
In 2018, the Ministry aims to achieve a 4 percent growth in exports through an advanced dealing with factors that may put downward pressure on exports. While the global economy would likely continue to recover based on the strong performances of emerging markets, the Ministry is aware of potential risks to exports, including strong Korean won and rising trade protectionism. In the first half of this year, the Ministry will focus its policy capacities on maintaining an upward trend in exports.
The Ministry forecasts that exports of semiconductors, general machinery, and petrochemicals would grow this year amid the recovery of the global economy, while those of ships, steel, and home appliances could contract. Overseas shipments of high-value goods, including OLED products and SSDs, are expected to continue expanding.
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