The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on July 19 that exports of industrial materials and components set a new record of USD 155.6 billion in the first half of 2018, growing 15.6 percent year-on-year.
Imports and trade surpluses of 11 types of materials and components were also at an all-time high. Imports rose 8.2 percent to $88.1 billion and the trade surplus stood at $67.5 billion.
Exports of both materials and components achieved double-digit growth of 14.2 percent and 16.2 percent, respectively. The materials and components industry contributed to 52.3 percent of total exports and 209 percent of the trade surplus from January to June 2018.
A breakdown of exports showed that outbound shipments of electronic components and chemical products led the growth, as they jumped 26.1 percent to $66.4 billion and 17.0 percent to $25.1 billion, respectively. Memory semiconductors were particularly in strong demand, with all-time high exports of $25.6 billion.
Primary metal exports also climbed 14.4 percent to $14.2 billion. This was mainly due to higher international steel prices and the thriving manufacturing and construction sector in the U.S. and in other major economies.
Nine out of 11 materials and components categories saw export growth in the first half. Shipments of transport machinery components and electromechanical components ticked downward 2.4 percent to $13.7 billion and 0.1 percent to $8.5 billion, respectively.
By region, exports to all major markets except Central and South America and to the Middle East increased from a year earlier.
China was the biggest and fastest-growing export market. Exports to China grew 23.5 percent to $49.5 billion. This growth was largely attributable to greater demand for electronic components, especially memory semiconductors.
Outbound shipments to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) expanded 4.9 percent to $25.4 billion, mostly due to increased demand for electronic components, particularly semiconductors.
Exports to the European Union (EU) went up 21.7 percent to $14.5 billion because of increases in all categories for both materials and components. Chemical product exports logged significant growth, as Korean pharmaceutical companies made inroads into European markets.
The growth in imports was led by electronic components (up 10.6 percent to $29.3 billion), chemical products (up 14.8 percent to $15.7 billion), and general machinery components (up 12.5 percent to $10.3 billion).
Meanwhile, this expansion was partially offset by transport machinery components (down 2.2 percent to $5.2 billion) and precision instrument components (down 2.8 percent to $3.1 billion).
Regionally, imports from all major markets except Central and South America (down 3.4 percent) increased. Imports from China rose 12.3 percent to $26.8 billion and those from ASEAN grew 13.6 percent to $10.1 billion. In particular, imports from Vietnam set a record high of $3.7 billion, as Korean companies are locating more of their factories in that country.