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flag South Korea South Korean foreign trade in figures

The export-oriented policies of South Korea are one of the most important factors of its economic success. The country is the world's seventh largest exporter of goods and the ninth largest importer (World Trade Organisation, 2021). In 2020 trade represented almost 70.1% of its GDP (World Bank, 2022). The country exports mainly Electrical and electronic equipment (31% of total exports in 2021), machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers (13%), vehicles other than railway, tramway (11%), plastics (6.2%), Mineral fuels, oils, distillation products (5%) and optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus (3.9%). Its main imports are Electrical and electronic equipment (20%), Mineral fuels, oils, distillation products (19%), machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers (12%), optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus (4.1%), vehicles other than railway, tramway (3.9%) and iron ores slag and ash (3.4%). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is forecasting a rebound of 9,2% in the volume of exports of goods and services of this country in 2022, after an increse of 10.5% in 2021 and 0,9% in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, and an increase of 2.2% of its imports, after a fall of 0.8% in 2020 and 0% in 2021 (IMF Country Report, 2021).

South Korea is heavily integrated into international trade and finance and is subsequently highly vulnerable to external influences, especially from China, which is its main trade partner (27% of total exports in 2021), followed by United States (15%), Vietnam (9.8%), Hong Kong (6.2%) and Japan (5.1%). Its main suppliers are China (24%), United States (13%), Japan (10%), Germany (4.6%) and Vietnam with 4.2% (Comtrade, 2021). South Korea has concluded free-trade agreements with many countries (the last one with five Central American countries) representing more than 70% of the global economy. The country is still considering joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which was signed by 11 Asia-Pacific countries in March 2018. On the 15th of November 2020 South Korea has signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with 14 other Indo-Pacific countries. This free trade agreement is the largest trade deal in history, covering 30 per cent of the global economy. It includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN : Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and ASEAN’s free trade agreement partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and Republic of Korea). The RCEP covers goods, services, investment, economic and technical cooperation. It also creates new rules for electronic commerce, intellectual property, government procurement, competition, and small and medium sized enterprises.

According to WTO, exports of goods amounted to USD 512.49 billion in 2020, while imports amounted to USD 467.63 billion. Exports of services amounted to USD 86.14 billion, while imports amounted to USD 101.58 billion. Since February 2012, the country's trade balance has been in high surplus and is expected to remain so in the coming years. According to WTO, trade surplus including services amounted to USD 29.42 billion in 2020.

 
Foreign Trade Values 20162017201820192020
Imports of Goods (million USD) 406,192478,478535,202503,343467,633
Exports of Goods (million USD) 495,426573,694604,860542,233512,498
Imports of Services (million USD) 110,436120,317127,300125,034101,587
Exports of Services (million USD) 92,82886,46997,95797,91686,145

Source: World Trade Organisation (WTO) ; Latest available data

 
Foreign Trade Indicators 20162017201820192020
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 73.677.179.077.070.1
Trade Balance (million USD) 116,462113,593110,08779,81281,945
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 99,12376,85980,71752,96765,755
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 5.28.91.7-0.6-3.8
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 2.42.54.01.7-2.5
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 33.536.237.337.033.2
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 40.140.941.739.936.9

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

 
Foreign Trade Forecasts 20212022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 9.04.73.73.53.4
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 8.45.04.23.83.7

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 
International Economic Cooperation
South Korea is a member of the following international economic organisations: IMF, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), OECD, G-20, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (dialogue partner), ICC, WTO, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates South Korea click here. International organisation membership of South Korea is also outlined here.
Free Trade Agreements
South Korea is a member of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed on 15 November 2020. The complete and up-to-date list of Free Trade Agreements signed by South Korea can be consulted here.

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
2020
China 25.9%
United States 14.5%
Vietnam 9.5%
Hong Kong SAR, China 6.0%
Japan 4.9%
See More Countries 39.3%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2020
China 23.3%
United States 12.4%
Japan 9.8%
Germany 4.4%
Vietnam 4.4%
See More Countries 45.7%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

 

Main products

512.7 bn USD of products exported in 2020
Electronic integrated circuits and microassembliesElectronic integrated circuits and microassemblies 16.2%
Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally...Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, incl. station wagons and racing cars (excl. motor vehicles of heading 8702) 7.0%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 4.5%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line...Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line telegraphy, incl. line telephone sets with cordless handsets and telecommunication apparatus for carrier-current line systems or for digital line systems; videophones; parts thereof 3.5%
Cruise ships, excursion boats, ferry-boats, cargo...Cruise ships, excursion boats, ferry-boats, cargo ships, barges and similar vessels for the transport of persons or goods 3.2%
See More Products 65.6%
467.5 bn USD of products imported in 2020
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 9.5%
Electronic integrated circuits and microassembliesElectronic integrated circuits and microassemblies 8.6%
Petroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbonsPetroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons 4.0%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals (excl. crude); preparations containing >= 70% by weight of petroleum oils or of oils obtained from bituminous minerals, these oils being the basic constituents of the preparations, n.e.s.; waste oils containing mainly petroleum or bituminous minerals 2.7%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line...Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line telegraphy, incl. line telephone sets with cordless handsets and telecommunication apparatus for carrier-current line systems or for digital line systems; videophones; parts thereof 2.6%
See More Products 72.5%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data

To go further, check out our service Import/Export Flows.

 
 

Main Services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest Available Data

 

Exchange Rate System

Local Currency
South Korean Won (KRW)
Exchange Rate Regime
Independently floating.
Level of Currency Instability
Low
Exchange Rate on :

 
 
 
Monetary Indicators 20162017201820192020
South Korean Won (KRW) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 USD 1,160.271,130.421,100.561,165.401,180.27

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.

 
 

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Latest Update: June 2022