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‘Korea to post trade surplus in February’

Knowledge Economy Minister Hong Suk-woo said Thursday that Korea’s trade balance would swing back into the black this month as exports pick up, driving a turnaround from January’s painful deficit.

“We’ll post a surplus this month, albeit small, despite tough economic conditions,” he told reporters at a dinner meeting, without providing numbers.

Hong’s forecast backs the remarks made early this month by Han Jin-hyun, deputy minister for trade and investment policy that he anticipates slight export growth and a trade surplus for February.

The ministry is scheduled to release its preliminary trade figures on March 1.

Korea registered a $2.03 billion trade deficit last month, the first since January 2010, driven by a plunge in key exports items such as ships and mobile communications devices.

New export orders also dropped for a sixth straight month as the European debt crisis and the Lunar New Year holiday dampened demand.

The government set its surplus target at $25 billion for this year, but slowing exports spell a grim outlook for Asia’s fourth-largest economy, where exports account for about half of the domestic output.

For the first 10 days of February, Korea remained in the red with a $14 billion deficit. Exports came at $15.3 billion and imports at $16.7 billion, according to the Korea Customs Service.

The Bank of Korea reported Tuesday that the country’s “terms of trade,” the ratio of export and import prices, hit a three-year low at 78.9 last year as spiraling oil prices push up import costs, eclipsing moderate gains in export prices.

By Shin Hyon-hee (