By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's shipments to FTA partners more than doubled over the past 15 years, but the country should clinch more free trade deals to ease its heavy reliance on the world's two largest economies -- the United States and China, a think tank said Wednesday.
The country's exports to 52 nations it has signed free trade deals with reached US$438.6 billion in 2018, compared with $170 billion in 2004, according to the data compiled by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP).
Over the cited period, imports from the nations also jumped from $121.7 billion to $334.6 billion, the data showed.
The country implemented its first FTA with Chile in April 2004. The figures are based on the number of agreements with trade partners as of 2018.
On the back of the country's efforts to expand its trade portfolio, South Korea has implemented 16 FTAs that cover 57 trade partners as of 2019.
The combined amount of foreign direct investment by such nations in Asia's No. 4 economy also increased to $211.9 billion in 2017, up from $61.9 billion posted in 2005, the KIEP report showed.
"While South Korea has been making efforts to build FTA networks with major trade partners, the country should also set eyes on developing nations in long term perspectives," the KIEP said in its report.
"Considering uncertainties from the trade row between the U.S. and China, along with export restrictions from Japan, South Korea needs to ease its reliance on major countries and seek FTAs with new partners," it added.
China and the U.S. accounted for nearly 40 percent of South Korea's combined exports in 2019.
South Korea is currently pushing to implement more free trade deals also to rekindle its ailing exports hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seoul aims to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would create a mega economic bloc accounting for one-third of the world's gross domestic product, by the end of this year.
ASEAN and its dialogue partners -- South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand -- effectively reached an agreement on RCEP in November.
Last year, South Korea and Cambodia agreed to launch a joint feasibility study on their potential FTA in a move to forge deeper economic ties and expand exchanges as well.
South Korea's exports dropped for the third consecutive month in May, slipping 23.7 percent, due to the growing economic fallout from the pandemic that has disrupted the global supply chain.
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