Containers stand ready for loading under cranes at Incheon Port. Photo: AFP

SEOUL – South Korea saw its exports expand 11.4%, year-on-year in January to $48 billion, the third consecutive month of the on-year trend. Even so, overseas shipments were down marginally month-on-month from December’s $51.4 billion.

Trade Ministry data, reported in local media Monday, showed demand was flying for semiconductors, mobile devices and autos, while petrochemicals saw a more modest increase.

With Korea being a trade-dependent manufacturing powerhouse with a broad portfolio of industrial exports, Seoul data offers a glimpse at the state of health of multiple global sectors.


By destination, exports to the United States shot up 46.1% on the back of hefty car sales, apparently due to people being less willing to use public transport and so acquiring autos. Shipments to the EU climbed 23.9%, led by pandemic equipment and also autos. And exports to China were up 22% on the back of strong demand for chips, capital goods and mobile devices.

By sector, semiconductor sales advanced 21.7%, for a monthly value of $8.7 billion. Chip sales have been one bright spot during the pandemic, due to increased demand for companies to upgrade data center capacity, and increased demand for devices from consumers forced to work and play from home.

Another key element of the South Korean industrial portfolio is cars, and overseas auto sales revved up 40.2% to $4 billion – the strongest rebound since 2017, according to the reports. Demand was strongest for sports utility vehicles and eco-friendly vehicles.

Exports of mobile devices rose by 58%, largely on the back of new model releases, and displays were up 32.3% on the stay-at-home trend.

And while petrochemicals exports were up a more modest 8.6%, shipments of petroleum products were down 46% due to depressed oil prices.