The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on January 1 that Korea’s exports in 2021 hit USD 644.5 billion, a hefty 25.8 percent increase over the previous year. Annual imports also stand at a historic $615.1 billion, up by 31.5 percent. As net exporter for the 13th consecutive year with a record-breaking trade surplus of $29.5 billion, placing Korea among top 8 trade countries worldwide.
In addition to reaching $1 trillion within the shortest time (299 days) in history, Korea also recorded the steepest exports climb in 11 years since 2010, a first time in 3 years to see an increase amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. Since 2020, Korea has held its position as the world's 7th largest exporter. Annual imports also at highest, Korea stands among 10 countries surpassing the $1 trillion mark in trade.
As an indicator of Korea’s more balanced growth, 15 major items saw across-the-board positive surge in exports for the first time in the 21st century, all achieving two-digit leaps. At the helm, semiconductor (up 29.0 percent) and petrochemical (up 54.8 percent) exports delivered unprecedented figures, accompanied by bio-health products (up 16.9 percent) and secondary batteries (up 15.5 percent).
Factors contributing to record-high semiconductor and computer exports were the pandemic-induced expansion of contactless economy and revitalized digital transition. Exports of intermediate goods like petrochemicals and general machinery (up 10.8 percent) benefited from the economic recovery of major countries and ensuing rise in demand for downstream industries, as well as increased infrastructure investments.
Global rise in demand for high value-added and eco-friendly products drove 4th highest car exports in Korea's history in spite of vehicle semiconductor supply chain challenges. Moreover, Korea’s competitive advantage in shipbuilding has helped to recover pre-pandemic exports levels.
With the recent resurgence of K-wave, relatively newer items like cosmetics (21.5 percent) and agricultural products (13.2 percent) were among those posting promising growth, reaching their first-ever $10 billion and $9 billion in exports respectively.
By region, exports to all major 9 destinations increased, a first since 2011. With the exception of exports to the GCC (up 6.2 percent), all exports rose by double digits. Hitting all-time highs were exports to China (up 22.9 percent), US (up 29.4 percent), EU (up 33.9 percent), ASEAN (up 22.3 percent), and India (up 30.8 percent).
For the month of December 2021, Korea’s exports saw a year-on-year growth of 18.3 percent to $60.7 billion, yet another historic record. Imports also shot up 37.4 percent to $61.3 billion and the trade balance stood at a deficit of $0.6 billion.
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