(ATTN: UPDATES article with details on record-high exports; CHANGES headline, lead)
SEOUL, Dec. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports hit an all-time high and are likely to surpass US$640 billion for 2021, boosted by robust demand in chips, shipbuilding and autos, government data showed Monday.
As of 11:36 a.m., the country's outbound shipments had broken the previous record high of $604.9 billion in 2018, according to the data by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, and the Korea Customs Service.
The cumulative exports stood at $583.8 billion for the January-November period, also eclipsing the 2018 tally of $556.7 billion.
It marks the highest amount since the country began to compile export data in 1956. South Korea's exports surpassed the $100 million mark for the first time in 1964, $10 billion in 1977 and reached the $100 billion milestone in 1995 and $600 billion in 2018.
Solid growth in semiconductors, shipbuilding and automobiles drove up exports despite the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government said.
In the first nine months of the year, South Korean semiconductors maintained the No. 1 spot with a 58.9 percent global market share. Automobiles retained fifth place with the exports reaching $32.7 billion in the same period, based on the International Trade Center statistics.
Exports in shipbuilding reached $15.8 billion, taking up 20.6 percent in terms of market share, up from 17.8 percent a year earlier.
South Korea won the most shipbuilding orders globally, accounting for 93 percent for liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers and 64 percent for green ships.
The combined outbound shipments of batteries, bio, agriculture and fishery products, and cosmetics, accounted for nearly half of the exports increase, giving a boost to the overall performance.
Rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles grew by more than twofold this year from a year ago, keeping its second place in the global market share.
For the first 10 days of December, the country's exports grew 20.4 percent on-year on the back of solid demand for chips and petroleum products, the customs agency said.
The country's outbound shipments stood at $19.5 billion in the Dec. 1-10 period, compared with $16.2 billion a year earlier.
Imports jumped 42.3 percent on-year to $22 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $2.5 billion during the cited period, the data showed.
By sector, outbound shipments of memory chips, a key export item, rose 26.5 percent on-year in the cited period.
Semiconductors accounted for about 20 percent of exports by South Korea, home to Samsung Electronics Co., the world's largest memory chip maker, and its smaller rival SK hynix Inc.
Exports of petroleum products jumped 90.7 percent as oil prices remained high amid the global economic recovery.
Shipments of autos, meanwhile, declined 6.2 percent on-year amid a global shortage of automotive chips. Autos accounted for some 7 percent of South Korea's exports.
By country, shipments to China, South Korea's largest trading partner, rose 24.9 percent on-year, and those to the United States gained 18.3 percent.
The South Korean economy is on a recovery track on the back of robust exports.
Exports, which account for half of the economy, grew 32 percent on-year to a record high of US$60.44 billion in November, extending their gains to the 13th straight month.
The Bank of Korea forecast Asia's fourth-largest economy to grow 4 percent this year. The government predicted economic growth of 4.2 percent.
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