Exports up 18.2 pct in March to all-time high on robust demand for chips

SEOUL-- South Korea's exports jumped 18.2 percent in March from a year earlier to reach an all-time monthly high on the back of brisk demand for chips and petroleum products, data showed Friday.

But high global energy prices also pushed up the country's imports to a record high last month, leading the country to post a trade deficit, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Outbound shipments stood at US$63.48 billion in March, up from $53.69 billion a year earlier. It is the highest tally since the ministry began compiling related data in 1956.

The previous record was set in December last year when the figure came to $60.7 billion, the ministry said.

The average daily export volume also reached the highest figure of $2.76 billion last month, beating the previous record of 2.69 billion set in February 2022, the data showed.

March marked the 17th consecutive month that the country's exports have logged an on-year expansion. Exports also posted a double-digit growth for the 13th month in a row last month.

Imports surged 27.9 percent on-year to $63.62 billion, also recording a record monthly high amid high energy prices, leading the country to post a trade deficit of $140 million, the data showed.

Dubai crude, South Korea's benchmark, stood at $110.93 per barrel in March on average, up more than 50 percent from $64.44 a year earlier.

South Korea depends on imports for most of its energy needs, and its energy imports reached a record high of $16.19 billion in March, up from $7.72 billion a year earlier, the ministry said.

The country posted a trade deficit of $140 million in March, a turnaround from a trade surplus of $831 million the previous month.

By item, overseas demand for the country's major export items grew amid a global economic recovery, with sales of semiconductors and petrochemical products reaching an all-time high of $13.12 billion and $5.42 billion, respectively.

Shipments of petro products spiked 90.1 percent amid soaring global energy prices, and steelmakers saw their overseas sales jump 26.8 percent on-year last month.

Bio firms also enjoyed a 24.2 percent on-year export increase in March amid the prolonged pandemic across the globe, the data showed.

But car exports fell 9.7 percent on-year to $3.97 billion in March due to continued supply disruptions of auto chips, and sales of ships also tumbled 35.9 percent to $1.5 billlion.

By nation, exports to the three key markets of China, the United States and ASEAN reached an all-time high, while exports bound for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) tumbled amid the Ukraine crisis.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

Shipments to China rose 16.6 percent on-year to $15.63 billion last month, and those to the United States expanded 19.9 percent to $9.56 billion. Exports to the ASEAN countries jumped 44.4 percent to $12.03 billion.

But sales in the CIS nations fell 37.7 percent on-year to $680 million amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent international sanctions. It marked the first fall in 13 months.

Shipments to Russia decreased around 40 percent in March, with auto sales and auto parts tumbling around 80 percent. Those to Ukraine nose-dived around 95 percent on-year, the data showed.

Exports to the European Union also went down 2 percent to $6.2 billion amid a high base effect, according to the ministry.

"The recent unprecedented hike in global energy prices and the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis have caused a trade deficit, but major export items have maintained a solid competitive edge in the global market," Industry Minister Moon Sung-wook said.

Moon vowed active support to exporters to help them manage risks amid global uncertainties, such as ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in China, while making efforts to ensure stable supplies of energy resources and other key industry items.

Source: Yonhap News Agency