(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 9 paras)
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEJONG, June 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports sharply fell 16.6 percent in the first 10 days of June mainly due to decreased shipments of semiconductors, one of the country's key items, customs data showed Tuesday.
The country's exports stood at US$10.3 billion in the June 1-10 period, compared with $12.3 billion in the same period last year, according to the Korea Customs Service.
By product, exports of electronic appliances and vessels jumped 68.1 percent and 169.7 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, outbound shipments of semiconductors, which led last year's stellar exports for Asia's fourth-largest economy, and petroleum products fell 30.8 percent and 20.1 percent, respectively.
South Korea's shipments to China and the United States -- the country's top two trading partners -- declined 26.7 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively.
South Korea imported goods worth $12.5 billion in the 10-day period, down 10.8 percent from a year earlier.
Seoul's exports have been on the decline since December amid the escalating trade tension between the world's two largest economies. Shipments to China, the world's single largest importer of South Korean products, have also been on the wane since November.
Exports came to $45.9 billion for May, down 9.7 percent from the $50.68 billion tallied a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
The May decline was sharper than what the market had expected.
Exports of semiconductors, the bellwether for the country's exports, continued to decline last month.
Outbound shipments of chips reached $7.53 billion in May, falling a whopping 30 percent from a year earlier, and shipments of petrochemical products also nose-dived 16.2 percent over the period to $3.66 billion on the weaker demand from China, the data showed.
The exports data will add to woes for the economy whose growth momentum is waning.
The economy unexpectedly contracted 0.3 percent in the first quarter of the year from three months earlier, marking the worst performance in a decade, due to a sharper-than-expected dip in exports and facility investment.
Last month, the Bank of Korea trimmed its growth outlook for the year to 2.5 percent from 2.6 percent but expected the economy to gather pace during the second half of the year, which many claim is too optimistic.
The country's current account balance, the biggest measure of cross-border trade, was also in the red in April, the first deficit in seven years, due to flagging exports and increased dividend transfers.
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