S. Korean exports total $50.73 billion in May in biggest year-on-year jump in 32 years

Posted on : 2021-06-02 16:59 KST Modified on : 2021-06-02 16:59 KST
This marks the seventh straight month of increase
Cargo containers filled with export products are loaded onto ships at a dock in the Port of Busan, in the city’s Nam District. (Yonhap News)
Cargo containers filled with export products are loaded onto ships at a dock in the Port of Busan, in the city’s Nam District. (Yonhap News)

South Korea’s exports in May totaled US$50.73 billion, the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) said Tuesday.

This marks a seventh straight month of increase, while the rise of 45.6% from the same month in 2020 was the biggest jump in 32 years since August 1988. It’s also the second straight month with an increase of over 40%, after the first-ever was recorded in April at 41.2%.

The strong export performance comes as mainstay items such as automobiles, petrochemicals and semiconductors — South Korea’s number one export item — are showing good vital signs amid a global economic recovery.

The figure represents an all-time high for May, breaking the previous record of US$50.69 billion set in May 2018.

Exports continued their streak of three straight months over US$50 billion, despite May having three fewer working days than the two months before. Daily average exports totaled US$2.42 billion, exceeding US$2.4 billion for the first time since the US$2.6 billion recorded in September 2018.

Cumulative exports for January to May totaled US$248.4 billion, the highest ever.

Cumulatively, both total exports and daily average exports — US$2.24 billion — were at an all-time high with the trend exceeding levels in 2018, the only previous year in which annual exports exceeded US$600 billion — total exports of US$245.6 for January to May, daily average exports of US$2.2 billion — the MOTIE said.

The rise in exports has been propelled by strong performance by mainstay items, including semiconductors and automobiles. Increases were observed in 14 out of 15 mainstay areas, with 12 of them showing double-digit or higher rates of growth.

Semiconductor exports showed an increase of 24.5%, continuing their rise for an 11th straight month to pass US$10 billion for the first time since 2018.

Automobile exports increased by 93.7%, their highest rate of growth in 14 years and eight months. Record increases were also observed for petrochemicals (94.9%) and petroleum products (164.1%).

The only mainstay area where exports declined was shipbuilding. The MOTIE explained that this decline was based on slack orders from two to three years prior and bore little connection to export trends for this year.

Increases were observed in exports to all nine major regions: China (22.7%), the US (62.8%), the European Union (62.8%), ASEAN (64.3%), Japan (32.1%), Central and South America (119.3%), India (152.1%), the Middle East (4.6%), and the CIS (36.5%).

May imports were calculated at US$47.81 billion, an increase of 37.9%. The trade balance stood at US$2.93 billion, registering a surplus for the 13th straight month.

The MOTIE said, “Judging from the fact that they have exceeded US$50 billion for a third straight month and average daily exports exceeded US$2.4 billion for the first time since 2018, exports appear to be performing strongly regardless of any baseline effect [due to economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic].”

Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Moon Sung-wook said, “While in the past exports were driven by such mainstay items as semiconductors and automobiles and bolstered from behind by new growth items in areas such as biohealth and rechargeable batteries, all items are now experiencing growth, as the intermediate goods that make up the central component of exports have broken out of their long slump and registered increases of over 50% for two straight months.”

He added that the evidence of recovery in global trade and the rise in exports to all nine regions for two months in a row were also hopeful signs.

By Kim Young-bae, senior staff writer

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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