By Kim Tae-gyu
Korea managed to record a trade surplus last month from a deficit in January, the first shortfall in two years for the export-driven economy.
The Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) said Thursday that the country saw $47.2 billion in exports, up 22.7 percent from a year before, and $45 billion in imports, up 23.6 percent.
As a result, Asia’s fourth-largest economy posted a trade surplus of $2.2 billion last month, a turnaround from the $1.96 billion deficit in January, which had prompted observers to worry the country had lost its edge that helped it survive the global economic downturn.
“This is quite an achievement because things were not that good last month due to rising crude oil prices. In particular, we were stuck in negative territory for most of the month,” an MKE official said.
“However, brisk outbound shipments of our flagship industries including automobiles and shipbuilding contributed to the surplus.”
Exports of vehicles jumped 60.2 percent last month from a year before while those of steel and petrochemical products rose 44.4 percent and 41.9 percent respectively, followed by machinery at 37.1 percent.
In comparison, wireless telecom devices and the liquid crystal display business saw exports decrease by 32.6 percent and 2.6 percent respectively, year-on-year.
By region, exports to the United States soared 64.5 percent and those to the European Union were up 30.4 percent.
“Our companies increased their exports of automobiles, steel and textiles to the United States. Plus, the abrupt uptick of vessel exports explains the brisk trade with the United States,” the official said.
But worries still linger on the prospects of the Korean economy because crude oil prices have continued to rise of late.
The value of crude and the Korean economy is inversely correlated. When oil prices rise 10 percent, the nation’s economic growth rate goes down by almost 1 percent, while consumer price levels go up by around 0.5 percent.
“Obviously, higher oil prices are burdensome for us. But there are optimistic statistics in February such as strong imports of capital goods while those of consumer goods rose by just 9.1 percent,” he said.