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Foreign trade figures of South Korea

Foreign Trade in Figures

The export-oriented policies of South Korea are one of the most important factors in its economic success. The country was the world's sixth-largest exporter of goods and the eighth-largest importer of goods in 2022 (WTO), with trade accounting for 97% of its GDP (World Bank). In the same year, the country exported mainly electrical and electronic equipment (16.5% of the total), petroleum oils (9%), motor cars (7.6%), telephones (4.2%), and parts and accessories for vehicles (1.9%). Conversely, petroleum oils (18.1%), electronic integrated circuits (8.5%), petroleum gas (7.8%), coal (3.8%), and machines used for the manufacture of semiconductors (2.8% - data Comtrade).

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 (22.8% of total exports in 2022), followed by the United States (16.1%), Vietnam (8.9%), Japan (4.5%) and Hong Kong (4%). Its main suppliers are China (21.1%), the United States (11.2%), Japan (7.5%), Australia (6.1%) and Saudi Arabia (5.7% - data Comtrade). 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 recently decided to join 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 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% 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 the 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.

South Korea’s trade balance is structurally positive. According to WTO, exports of goods amounted to USD 683.5 billion in 2022, while imports reached USD 731.3 billion (+6% and +18.9% y-o-y, respectively). As per services, exports stood at USD 133 billion against USD 136 billion in imports. Despite overall exports reaching an all-time high, 2022 saw South Korea’s largest-ever trade deficit on high global energy prices. According to preliminary governmental figures for 2023, exports declined 7.4% as restrictive monetary policies in many countries and a slowing Chinese economy weakened demand for Korean goods. Moreover, South Korea experienced a trade deficit of USD 18 billion with China, marking the first time in 31 years that such a bilateral shortfall occurred between the two countries.

 
Foreign Trade Values 20192020202120222023
Imports of Goods (million USD) 503,343467,633615,093731,370642,572
Exports of Goods (million USD) 542,233512,498644,400683,585632,226
Imports of Services (million USD) 130,684104,266125,235138,890150,146
Exports of Services (million USD) 103,83989,596119,949131,637124,486

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

Foreign Trade Indicators 20182019202020212022
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 79.075.869.080.596.8
Trade Balance (million USD) 110,08779,81280,60575,73115,061
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 80,71752,96765,93570,4449,513
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 1.7-1.9-3.110.13.7
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 4.00.2-1.710.83.2
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 37.336.532.738.548.5
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 41.739.336.442.048.3

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20232024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)2027 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change) 3.13.73.23.33.2
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change) 3.13.93.43.43.2

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)
2022
China 22.8%
United States 16.1%
Vietnam 8.9%
Japan 4.5%
Hong Kong SAR, China 4.0%
See More Countries 43.7%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
2022
China 21.1%
United States 11.2%
Japan 7.5%
Australia 6.1%
Saudi Arabia 5.7%
See More Countries 48.3%

Source: Comtrade, 2023. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

Main Products

683.6 bn USD of products exported in 2022
Electronic integrated circuits; parts thereofElectronic integrated circuits; parts thereof 16.5%
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 9.0%
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) 7.6%
Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular...Telephone sets, incl. telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks; other apparatus for the transmission or reception of voice, images or other data, incl. apparatus for communication in a wired or wireless network [such as a local or wide area network]; parts thereof (excl. than transmission or reception apparatus of heading 8443, 8525, 8527 or 8528) 4.1%
Parts and accessories for tractors, motor vehicles...Parts and accessories for tractors, motor vehicles for the transport of ten or more persons, motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons, motor vehicles for the transport of goods and special purpose motor vehicles of heading 8701 to 8705, n.e.s. 2.9%
See More Products 59.9%
731.4 bn USD of products imported in 2022
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous...Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals, crude 14.5%
Electronic integrated circuits; parts thereofElectronic integrated circuits; parts thereof 8.5%
Petroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbonsPetroleum gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons 7.8%
Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels...Coal; briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels manufactured from coal 3.8%
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 3.6%
See More Products 61.8%

Source: Comtrade, 2023. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 
 

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

 

Main Services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, 2024. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

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Latest Update: June 2024