SEOUL-- South Korea's exports increased at the fastest pace ever in the first nine months of this year, led by robust sales of memory chips, ships and petrochemical products, data showed Wednesday.

Outbound shipments from Asia's fourth-largest economy jumped 18.5 percent on-year to US$430.1 billion in the January-September period, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Exports in the third quarter rose to a record high of $151 billion, contributing to the overall tally.

The country's top five export goods -- semiconductors, general machinery, ships, petrochemical products and vehicles -- posted double-digit growth in the cited period.

Overseas sales of semiconductors skyrocketed 53.9 percent from a year earlier thanks to strong demand for DRAM and NAND memory chips.

Exports of general machinery rose 11 percent, cashing in on increased infrastructure investment in developing nations, while petrochemical products shot up 26.3 percent on rising crude prices and expanded production from new factories.

Exports to China, South Korea's largest trading partner, advanced 13.4 percent in the nine-month period, and those to the United States gained 5.3 percent.

Shipments to the member states of Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) jumped 30.6 percent, making it South Korea's second-largest export destination.

"South Korea's reliance on China has been gradually reduced, while trade with Southeast Asian nations and India have increased to help diversify its export portfolio," the ministry said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency