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(3rd LD) S. Korea's exports shrink 8.2 pct on-year in March

All Headlines 11:26 April 01, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments in paras 5-6)

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.

"We had a relatively good performance last month as the downward pace slowed for the second straight month," Cheong Seung-il, deputy minister for international trade and investment, said in a press briefing.

"But it is too early to say that our exports have safely got on the recovery track, because there is no improvement in external factors such as oil prices and sluggish global demand."

The prolonged slump in exports has been widely attributed to sluggish overseas demand, coupled with low global oil prices.

According to the trade ministry, the country's overall exports, in terms of volume, only slipped 1.6 percent on-year in March. The large cut in terms of value was attributed to a decline in prices of export items, which dropped 6.4 percent on-year.

In March, the country's trade surplus widened to $9.82 billion from a $7.39 billion surplus in the previous month as imports dropped at a faster rate than exports.

Overall imports plunged 18.3 percent on-year to $33.16 billion in March, 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 spiked 14.7 percent on-year last month, a turnaround from a negative growth in the month before, with shipments of mobile communication devices, such as smartphones, jumping 19.9 percent on-year.

Shipments of semiconductors shrank 1.5 percent on-year in March, but the rate of drop greatly decelerated from a 12.6 percent plunge in the previous month.

By country, shipments to European Union countries surged 12.7 percent on-year with shipments to Vietnam and India soaring 13.5 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively.

Exports to China, the world's single-largest market for South Korean products, dwindled for nine consecutive month, plunging 12.2 percent on-year in March, but the rate of drop also continued to slow from a 21.5 percent cut in January and a 12.9 percent drop in the following month, it said.

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.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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