(3rd LD) Exports down 17.4 pct during first 20 days of March
(ATTN: ADDS trade minister's meeting with exporters in last 4 paras)
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, March 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports fell 17.4 percent on-year in the first 20 days of March, data showed Tuesday, amid the protracted downcycle in the global semiconductor industry.
The country's outbound shipments stood at US$30.9 billion in the March 1-20 period, compared with $37.4 billion a year earlier, according to the data from the Korea Customs Service.
Imports decreased 5.7 percent on-year to $37.3 billion during the period, resulting in a trade deficit of $6.3 billion.
By sector, exports of chips plunged 44.7 percent on-year to reach $4.32 billion. The sector is considered the backbone of Asia's No. 4 economy.
Outbound shipments of petroleum and steel products also dipped 10.6 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively, to $2.9 billion and $2.6 billion.
Overseas sales of automobiles, on the other hand, jumped 69.6 percent to hit $3.45 billion over the period.
By destination, exports to China, South Korea's top trading partner, decreased 36.2 percent to $6.18 billion despite hopes over the reopening of the world's No. 2 economy.
Shipments to the United States, on the other hand, edged up 4.6 percent to $5.6 billion.
Exports to the European Union and Vietnam moved down 8.9 percent and 28.3 percent, respectively.
South Korea's exports from Jan. 1 to Monday dipped 13.4 percent on-year to $127 billion, with its trade deficit reaching $24 billion.
The amount of trade deficit reported so far this year accounts for more than half of the $47.8 billion losses reported for all of 2023.
In February, the country's outbound shipments fell 7.5 percent on-year to $50.1 billion as exports of chips dived 42.5 percent over the period.
Exports have logged an on-year fall since October last year amid aggressive monetary tightening by major economies to tame inflation.
It marked the first time since the 1990s for South Korea to suffer trade deficits for 12 straight months.
South Korea announces its full monthly trade balance report on the first day of each month.
Trade Minister Ahn Duk-geun said the country is expected to experience difficulties in exports for the time being, given the global economic slowdown and falling chip prices.
"The government is closely watching the developments in the global financial market after the collapse of the U.S.' Silicon Valley Bank and the liquidity crisis for Credit Suisse. We will make all-out efforts to achieve export growth this year," he said during a meeting with associations of major industry sectors, including the semiconductor, steel and auto industries.
Officials from the corporate associations said that exports are expected to make a turnaround in the second half of this year on the back of China's reopening scheme and the improved chip market situation, according to the ministry.
South Korea set this year's export target at $685 billion, up 0.2 percent from last year's total, though the finance ministry earlier said that exports were forecast to mark a 4.5 percent on-year decline in 2023.
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