(ATTN: UPDATES with additional details, more information in paras 3, 8-14)
SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports continued to shrink from a year earlier in March, but the rate of decline slowed significantly from the previous month, government data showed Friday.
Outbound shipments came to US$42.98 billion in March, down 8.2 percent from the same month last year, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
March marked the 15th consecutive month since the start of last year that the country's exports dropped from a year earlier, the longest losing streak in the country's history.
However, the March tally marks an 18 percent spike from a month earlier.
Also, the country's trade surplus widened to $9.82 billion in March from a $7.39 billion surplus in the previous month as imports dropped at a faster rate than exports.
In March, overall imports plunged 18.3 percent on-year to $33.16 billion, also marking the 15th consecutive month of drop.
March also marked the 50th consecutive month of a trade surplus.
The slower rate of drop in exports, compared with a 12.2 percent on-year cut in February, was attributed to improvements in shipments of steel and semiconductors.
"Exports shrank by a single-digit figure for the first time in four months in March despite negative factors that included a slump in the global economy, low oil prices and a drop in prices of key export items," the ministry said in a press release.
The ministry said outbound shipments of steel products posted positive growth, marking a turnaround from an on-year cut in the previous month, while an on-year decline in shipments of semiconductors narrowed from a month earlier.
By country, shipments to European Union countries, Vietnam and India gained from a year earlier.
Exports to China, the world's single-largest market for South Korean products, shrank from the same month last year, but at a slower pace than in the previous month, it added.
Meanwhile, the ministry said the country's exports in the first three months of the year dropped 13.1 percent from the same period last year to $115.97 billion.
Imports plunged 16.3 percent on-year to $93.59 billion over the cited period.
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