With the strong sales of major industries and growth of new industries, South Korea’s exports posted USD 644.5 billion, the highest ever, in 2021. The trade amount, which encompasses exports and imports, also hit a record high of 1.2596 trillion won, ranking 8th in the world in nine years.
According to the ‘2021 Annual Export and Import Trend’ report released by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on the 1st, Korea’s exports in 2021 increased 25.8 per cent year-on-year to USD 644.54 billion, the largest amount in three years.
Korea first achieved USD 100 million in exports in 1964 and surpassed USD 10 billion in 1977, USD 100 billion in 1995, and USD 600 billion in 2018. Last year’s exports are the highest in three years.
Annual imports also surpassed USD 600 billion for the first time, raising Korea’s trade volume ranking. Last year’s imports were USD 615.05 billion, up 31.5 per cent.
Korea recorded USD 1.2596 trillion in trade, jumping one notch from ninth place in 2013-2020 to eighth place in 2021.
Last year’s trade balance was USD 29.49 billion, maintaining a surplus for 13 consecutive years.
The reason why Korea’s exports recovered faster than other countries and achieved a record high is due to the strong growth of major export industries based on solid manufacturing competitiveness.
Despite the COVID-19, Korean companies succeeded in minimizing production disruptions, and major industries such as semiconductor, shipbuilding, and automobile led the global market based on their product competitiveness. New export industries such as cosmetics, agriculture and marine products, and plastics also showed significant growth.
The top 15 major export items, including semiconductors, petrochemicals, and automobiles, grew by double digits last year. It is the first time that all 15 items have increased since 2000.
By item, traditional export industries such as semiconductors (USD 128 billion) and petrochemicals (USD 55.1 billion) recorded the highest performance ever and led the export growth.
Semiconductor exports also hit a record high due to the expansion of non-face-to-face services and digital transformation triggered by COVID-19. It also increased 29.0 per cent year-on-year with strong demands for server and mobile chips and foundry business. The mid-to-long-term growth outlook is also positive.
Petrochemical exports also recorded the highest ever. The economic recovery in major countries, increasing demand for major industries, and expansion of infrastructure investment led the growth.
For automobile and shipbuilding exports, an increase in exports of high-value-added and eco-friendly products is outstanding. With the carbon neutrality plan of major countries and related policies, exports of electric vehicles (EVs) and LNG carriers significantly increased. In particular, Korea’s automobile exports recorded USD 46.5 billion, ranking 4th despite the global semiconductor shortages.
Exports of bio-health products and secondary battery cells also reached an annual high, becoming the new growth engine of the top 15 major export items. Exports of bio-health products have increased for 23 consecutive years, surpassing USD 1.6 billion. Exports of secondary battery cells also recorded USD 8 billion with the expansion of the global EV market.
For major export industries, export items are diversified such as non-memory semiconductors, eco-friendly cars, and OLEDs. The new export items such as cosmetics, agricultural and marine products, and plastics also significantly increased.
By region, exports to all nine major regions recorded a surplus. Exports to all regions except for the Middle East showed double-digit growth, and exports to China, the US, EU, ASEAN, and India also hit an all-time high.