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Trade deficit seen despite record-high exports in March

A container terminal at Busan Harbor is seen over the cherry trees on Friday. (Yonhap)
A container terminal at Busan Harbor is seen over the cherry trees on Friday. (Yonhap)
SEJONG -- Korea’s monthly exports recorded an all-time high in March on the back of robust performance in outbound shipments of semiconductors and petrochemicals, state data showed Friday.

But the nation saw its trade balance in the red, as imports also increased to a record high last month in the wake of a spike in international raw materials prices.

According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the country recorded $63.4 billion in exports for March, up 18.2 percent from a year earlier. This marked the highest figure since the nation started compiling the relevant figures in 1956.

The nation saw positive growth in exports for the 17th consecutive month, with double-digit growth continuing for 13 consecutive months starting from March 2021.

Korea has continued to renew the monthly all-time high over the past year -- from $55.9 billion in September 2021 to $60.3 billion in November 2021, and to $60.7 billion, the second-highest figure in history, in December 2021.

By item, shipments of semiconductors and petrochemicals reached an all-time high of $13.1 billion and $5.4 billion, respectively. These segments induced the overall performance, said the ministry.

Among other core items, a 90.1 percent surge was seen in petroleum products, 44.5 percent in mobile telecommunications, 26.8 in steel and 24.2 in bio-related products.

By destination, exports to the Association of South-East Asian Nations increased by 44.4 percent on-year, South and Central Americas by 25.6 percent, the US by 19.9 percent, the Middle East by 17.4 percent and China by 16.6 percent.

Alongside the monthly high, the highest daily exports were recorded in March at $2.76 billion, according to the ministry.

Korea’s imports increased by 27.9 percent on-year to reach $63.6 billion last month, outstripping the former high of $61.1 billion in December 2021.

The record high import performance was attributed to a spike in prices of energy imports. Prices of crude climbed by 72 percent, liquefied natural gas by 200 percent and coal by 441 percent.

The nation’s inbound shipments of crude, LNG and coal came to the record highest of $16.1 billion last month.

As a result, the nation posted a trade deficit of $140 million in March, despite a record-breaking export performance.

A ministry official said Korea’s trade balance was “not so bad compared to figures held by other major countries.”

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)
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