(ATTN: ADDS details in para 3, last 3 paras)
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEJONG, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports sank 11.7 percent in September from a year earlier, extending their slump to a 10th consecutive month, data showed Tuesday, hurt by still weak prices of semiconductors and the yearlong trade row between the United States and China.
Outbound shipments reached US$44.7 billion last month, compared with the $50.6 billion tallied a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
It marked the longest on-year skid of exports since the 19-month consecutive fall from January 2015 to July 2016.
Imports fell 5.6 percent on-year last month to $38.7 billion, the ministry added.
The country's trade surplus came to $5.97 billion in September, marking 92 straight months in which the country's exports have exceeded imports.
By segment, South Korea's shipments of chips, the backbone of Asia's No. 4 economy, tumbled 31.5 percent on-year to $8.5 billion. Chips accounted for nearly 20 percent of the country's overall exports.
The continued slump came as global prices of DRAM moved down 50 percent on-year in September, while the U.S.-China dispute also weighed down on the global demand for chips, the ministry said.
Last month's performance was relatively lower as South Korea posted a record-high shipment of $12.4 billion worth of chips in September 2018, according to the ministry.
Outbound shipments of petrochemical products decreased 17.6 percent on-year to $3.7 billion, the data showed.
Shipments of mobile devices, on the other hand, moved up 1.1 percent -- their first on-year monthly growth in 14 months. Demand from Southeast Asian countries was particularly better, the ministry said.
Exports of ships advanced 30.9 percent on-year amid growing demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers. Automobile exports gained 4 percent amid rising demand for environment-friendly models from advanced economies, including the European Union.
By country, the country's exports to China, its biggest trading partner, fell 21.8 percent on-year, and those to the U.S. fell 2.2 percent over the cited period. The world's two largest economies are also South Korea's top two trading partners.
The ministry claimed the trade tussle with Japan only had a limited impact on overall exports.
Shipments to Japan slid 5.9 percent from a year earlier, apparently because the two countries' relationship deteriorated in the wake of Tokyo's abrupt economic retaliation against Seoul beginning in July.
Following South Korea's efforts to diversify its trade portfolio, the country's exports to the Commonwealth of Independent States jumped 41.3 percent, the data also showed.
The ministry expected South Korea's outbound shipments to rebound early next year should the trade friction between the U.S. and China be resolved, and the chip and petrochemical sectors improve.
"It depends on the progress of the U.S.-China trade dispute, along with the performance of the chip and petrochemical segments," said Park Tae-sung, the deputy minister for trade and investment at the ministry.
"Considering the on-going negotiations between Washington and Beijing, along with the improving conditions in the chip market compared to the first half, we cautiously expect the exports to rebound in early 2020," Park added.
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