S. Korea may log another trade deficit in April amid high oil prices

SEOUL-- South Korea's imports grew at a faster pace than exports in the first 20 days of April amid high oil prices, data showed Thursday, raising the possibility that the country may post another trade deficit for April.

Exports rose 16.9 percent on-year to US$36.3 billion in the April 1-20 period, according to the data from the Korea Customs Service.

Imports increased 25.5 percent on-year to $41.5 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $5.2 billion in the cited period, the data showed.

If the trend continues, the country may post a trade deficit for the second straight month in April due to surging energy costs caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

South Korea's exports remained robust on the back of demand for chips and petroleum products. In March, exports rose 18.2 percent on-year to hit an all-time monthly high of $63.48 billion and extended their gains for the 17th straight month, according to the trade ministry.

But soaring fuel prices pushed up the country's imports to a record high of $63.62 billion in March. This led the country to post a trade deficit of $140 million.

Dubai crude, South Korea's benchmark, came to $105.56 per barrel Wednesday, sharply up from $77.12 at the end of last year. It hit a yearly high of $127.86 per barrel on March 9.

South Korea heavily relies on imports for most of its energy needs.

The customs data showed outbound shipments of memory chips, a key export item, rose 22.9 percent on-year in the first 20 days of April. Semiconductors account for about 20 percent of South Korea's exports.

Exports of petroleum products jumped 82 percent on-year due to high oil prices.

Meanwhile, exports of autos fell 1 percent on-year amid a global shortage of auto chips. Autos accounted for some 7 percent of South Korea's exports. Shipments of telecommunication devices also slid 10.7 percent.

By country, exports to China rose 1.8 percent and those to the United States jumped 29.1 percent.

Imports of crude oil soared 82.6 percent and those of petroleum products jumped 46.6 percent amid high oil prices as the Ukraine-Russia war tightened supply of such goods.

Asia's fourth-largest economy has been on a recovery path on the back of robust exports. But it faces growing economic uncertainty amid the fast spread of the omicron variant and the Ukraine crisis.

The International Monetary Fund lowered its 2022 growth outlook for the South Korean economy to 2.5 percent, while raising its inflation projection to 4 percent this year as the Ukraine conflict has jacked up oil prices.

Source: Yonhap News Agency