The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on Oct. 1 that South Korea’s exports and imports totaled US$44.71 billion and US$38.74 billion in September this year, down 11.7 percent and 5.6 percent from a year ago, respectively. Last month, South Korea posted a trade surplus for the 92nd consecutive month.
Exports fell for 10 months in a row, led by sluggish semiconductor, petrochemical and petroleum product exports, a decline in unit export price, a slowdown of the Chinese economy, etc. The downtrend is likely to continue for a while in that the ongoing trade disputes between the United States and China and between South Korea and Japan are likely to drag on along with the current slowdown of major economies. For reference, South Korea’s exports showed a decline of 13.8 percent in August this year.
Last month, semiconductor, petrochemical and petroleum product exports dropped 31.5 percent, 17.6 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively. Semiconductor exports fell for the 10th consecutive month with the DRAM price more than halved from a year earlier.
On the other hand, automobile exports increased 4 percent, auto parts 2.1 percent, ship 30.9 percent, secondary battery 7.2 percent, and bio-health product 25.2 percent. Automobile exports rose for the sixth consecutive month for the first time since July 2017. Wireless communications device exports increased, by 1.1 percent, in 14 months.
Exports to China and the United States fell 21.8 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. Likewise, exports to Japan, the ASEAN region, India and the Middle East decreased 5.9 percent, 0.5 percent, 10.5 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively. In contrast, exports to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region, the EU region and Latin America rose 41.3 percent, 10.6 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively.
The ministry stressed that positive signs were detected in some indices such as export volumes and daily average exports. “When it comes to semiconductor and petrochemical, the cumulative volume for the first three quarters of this year showed a solid growth in spite of a decline in unit export price,” the ministry explained, adding, “In particular, the September export volume rose 3.1 percent, second only to January’s 8 percent.”
Last month, nine out of the 20 major export items of South Korea showed an increase in exports, including semiconductor (23.6 percent), petrochemical (2.7 percent) and ship (87.7 percent). During the same period, the average daily exports reached this year’s high of US$2.18 billion. The average has risen since July, when it was US$1.84 billion.
The September trade surplus is this year’s high, too. South Korea posted an average monthly trade surplus of US$5.8 billion amid an export boom in 2018. This year’s low, US$1.08 billion, was recorded in January.
The ministry also said that Japan’s export curbs that started in July this year have had a limited impact on South Korea’s exports. The Japanese government is currently restricting the export of three semiconductor and display materials to South Korea and the items accounted for merely 1.6 percent of South Korea’s total imports from Japan from July to September, US$11.71 billion.