SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's imports of gas and coal hit an all-time high last year on surging global energy prices, data showed Thursday.
The value of gas imports came to US$56.7 billion last year, the highest since 1956 when the government began compiling the related data, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The previous record of $36.6 billion was set in 2014.
The import value of coal also reached an all-time high of $28.1 billion, surpassing the previous record of $18.3 billion logged in 2011, the data showed.
Oil imports came to $105.8 billion last year, just coming short of a record $108.3 billion set in 2012.
Combined, the country's energy imports surged more than 40 percent on-year to a record high of $190.8 billion, according to the data. South Korea depends on imports for most of its energy needs.
The surge was mainly attributable to high global energy prices on the prolonged war between Russia and Ukraine and supply disruptions, as well as growing energy imports in preparation for wintertime demand, a ministry official said.
Australia was South Korea's No. 1 gas supplier with $15.3 billion last year, taking up 27 percent of the country's total gas imports, followed by the United States with $11.9 billion, Qatar with $8.5 billion and Malaysia with $5.5 billion.
Australia was also South Korea's top coal supplier with $12.4 billion, or 44.2 percent of Seoul's total coal imports, followed by Russia with $5.7 billion, Indonesia with $3.5 billion and Canada with $2.6 billion, the data showed.
The soaring energy imports caused the country to suffer a trade deficit of $47.2 billion last year.
It is the first time since 2008 that South Korea saw a trade deficit, and the shortfall is more than double of the previous record deficit of $20.62 billion logged in 1996, according to the ministry.
The people have been feeling the pinch of high energy prices, as the government sharply raised heating and electricity rates.
Last year, the government jacked up the gas rate for households more than 40 percent on-year, or 5.47 won per megajoule, and the electricity rate by 19.3 won per kilowatt hour (kWh), saying that it was inevitable to promote efficient energy use and to ensure stable energy supplies by preventing public utility firms from suffering huge losses.
The government froze the gas rate for the first quarter of this year but plans to raise it in the second quarter. It raised the electricity rate 13.1 won per kWh for the first quarter.
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