Julio 1, 2021 (The Korea Times) According to data for June from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the nation's exports surged to $54.8 billion, up 39.7 percent from a year earlier. The monthly export volume has risen for eight consecutive months, and has surpassed the $50 billion mark for the past four months, the ministry said.
As expected, semiconductors topped the list of the biggest export items amidst the global chip shortage ― shipments for the first six months combined topped $57.13 billion, up 21.9 percent from 2020.
Exports of machinery came second with $4.71 billion, up 21.5 percent, followed by petrochemicals with $4.64 billion, rising a full 68.5 percent based on increased global demand due to non-face-to-face consumption, according to the ministry.
Of particular note was the surge in auto parts. Exports of vehicle components exceeded $1.96 billion in the first half, up a whopping 108.2 percent from the previous year.
"Robust exports here have been driven by the increasing sophistication of the nation's major industrial products in fields such as semiconductors and automobiles," a ministry official said.
But calls are growing on Korea to place more focus on developing competitiveness in basic industrial sectors such as materials, components and equipment, so as to keep increasing the nation's exports in a sustainable manner and reduce risks in the case of possible trade disputes with other countries.
While announcing the results, the ministry also released data showing that Korea has reduced its reliance on Japan in imports of high-tech materials over the past two years.
In July 2019, Japan started restricting exports of three key materials to Korea ― fluorinated polyimide, photoresists and hydrogen fluoride ― all of which are crucial for manufacturing semiconductors and display screens. This ban came as a result of the then-deepening conflict between the two countries over historical issues.
Even if Korea is one of the world's leading countries in terms of making state-of-the-art products and information technology components ― such as semiconductors and display panels ― the conflict served as a wake-up call, as the country needs to develop expertise in securing such resource materials, so that leading tech firms that manufacture chips and display panels can avoid falling prey to unexpected political tension.
As a follow-up measure, the trade ministry has since focused on helping more small- and medium-sized Korean firms in the areas of materials, components and equipment, in order to enhance their expertise, with a view to reducing the country's reliance on Japan.
The ministry said that these efforts have clearly generated results over the past two years. Imports of hydrogen fluoride from Japan came in at $4.6 million for the first five months, down 83.6 percent from two years ago.
Korea's reliance on Japan in terms of the imports of "Top 100" core products also experienced a decline during the same period, from 31.4 percent to 24.9 percent, according to the ministry.
"The government, companies and the public here have successfully dealt with Japan's unfair economic retaliation by establishing a stable supply chain in the areas of materials, components and equipment," Trade Minister Moon Sung-wook said.
Sejong University economist Kim Dae-jong said Korea would be able to achieve its 2021 target GDP growth of 4.2 percent due to the stronger rebound in exports.
"With the global economy recovering from the shock of the pandemic, Korea will benefit a lot from reviving momentum in exports," he said. "The economy will easily achieve its growth targets provided that the COVID-19 variants do not spread at an alarming pace here and abroad."