South Korea’s Top 10 Exports

South Korean flag by Flagpictures.org

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Nicknamed the Land of the Morning Calm, exports from South Korea amounted to US$573.7 billion during 2017. This latest metric represents a 15.8% year-over-year uptick since 2016 and a 2.5% gain over the 5-year period starting in 2013.

As of June 2018, South Korea’s exported goods were valued at $297.2 billion up 6.5% compared to the first 6 months of 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, South Korea’s exported goods and services represent 43.9% of total Korean economic output or Gross Domestic Product. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

Back in 2016, almost two-thirds (62.9%) of South Korea’s exports by value were delivered to other Asian countries while 16.4% were sold to North American importers. South Korea shipped another 11.4% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Latin America plus the Caribbean (2.8%) and Africa (2.6%).

Given South Korea’s population of 51.2 million people, its total $572.9 billion in products exported during 2017 translates to roughly $11,200 for every resident in that country.

South Korea’s unemployment rate was 3.6% as of December 2017 according to Trading Economics.

South Korea’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in South Korean global shipments during 2017. South Korea’s top 10 exports are relatively concentrated, accounting for 85.5% of the overall value of its shipments. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall South Korean exports.

At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, South Korea’s most valuable exported products are electronic integrated circuits followed by cars then refined petroleum oils.

  1. Electrical machinery, equipment: US$163.1 billion (28.4% of total exports)
  2. Machinery including computers: $69.3 billion (12.1%)
  3. Vehicles: $61.9 billion (10.8%)
  4. Ships, boats: $41 billion (7.1%)
  5. Mineral fuels including oil: $36.3 billion (6.3%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $31.5 billion (5.5%)
  7. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $29 billion (5.1%)
  8. Organic chemicals: $22.7 billion (4%)
  9. Iron, steel: $22.3 billion (3.9%)
  10. Articles of iron or steel: $13.1 billion (2.3%)

Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of South Korea’s Most Valuable Export Products further down below.

Among the top 10 export categories, mineral fuels including oil was the fastest-growing category via its 32.1% appreciation from 2016 to 2017.

South Korean shipments of organic chemicals were worth 26.5% more in 2017 compared to 2016. In third place for improving export sales was a highly capital-intensive category, namely ships and boats which increased in value by 23.7% year over year.

A long South Korean top 10 category diminished in value, namely exported vehicles which depreciated by -1.2% from 2016 to 2017.

Advantages

Overall South Korea achieved a $95.3 billion trade surplus for 2017, up 6.8% from the $89.2 billion worth of black ink generated during 2016.

As of June 2018, South Korea’s trade surplus stood at $32.1 billion down -28.5% compared to the first 6 months of 2017.

The following types of South Korean product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.

In a nutshell, net exports is the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.

  1. Electrical machinery, equipment: US$80.2 billion (Up by 35.7% since 2016)
  2. Vehicles: $46.2 billion (Down by -2.6%)
  3. Ships, boats: $39.5 billion (Up by 26.1%)
  4. Plastics, plastic articles: $20.4 billion (Up by 15.9%)
  5. Organic chemicals: $9.9 billion (Up by 42.3%)
  6. Machinery including computers: $8.8 billion (Down by -27.9%)
  7. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $7.4 billion (Down by -27.5%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: $6.7 billion (Up by 46.2%)
  9. Iron, steel: $5.8 billion (Up by 33.8%)
  10. Rubber, rubber articles: $5 billion (Up by 10.3%)

South Korea has highly positive net exports in the international trade of electronic integrated circuits and microassemblies as well as phone system devices including cellular and landline phones. In turn, these cashflows indicate South Korea’s strong competitive advantages under the electrical machinery and equipment product category.

Opportunities

Below are exports from South Korea that are negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on South Korea’s goods trail the home country’s import spending on foreign products.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$73.6 billion (Up by 35.7% since 2016)
  2. Ores, slag, ash: -$14 billion (Up by 29.2%)
  3. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$4.7 billion (Up by 8.8%)
  4. Meat: -$4.4 billion (Up by 14.6%)
  5. Other chemical goods: -$3.8 billion (Up by 11.3%)
  6. Aluminum: -$3.4 billion (Up by 21%)
  7. Wood: -$3.3 billion (Up by 11.1%)
  8. Cereals: -$3.1 billion (Down by -4.3%)
  9. Fish: -$2.9 billion (Up by 14.4%)
  10. Inorganic chemicals: -$2.8 billion (Up by 54.5%)

South Korea has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for crude oil, a key input needed for its highly industrialized economy to function effectively.

These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate South Korea’s competitive disadvantages in the international fossil fuel market, but also represent potential opportunities for South Korea to improve its position in the global economy by innovating alternative energy supplies.

Companies

South Korean Export Companies

Wikipedia lists many of the larger international trade players from South Korea:

  • Hyundai Motor (car, truck manufacturing)
  • Hynix Semiconductor (semiconductors)
  • SK Holdings (oil, gas)
  • LG Electronics (consumer electronics)
  • Doosan Heavy Industries (heavy machinery)
  • S-Oil (oil, gas)
  • Lotte Chemical (specialized chemicals)
  • KT&G (tobacco)

According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of leading South Korean exporters:

  • LG Electronics (dryers, washing machines, refrigerators, freezers)
  • Samsung Electronics (telecommunication equipment, refrigerators, freezers)
  • Hankook Tire (rubber inner tubes, vehicle tires, latex)


 
South Korea’s capital city is Seoul.

Searchable List of South Korea’s Most Valuable Export Products

At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, South Korea’s top export products are electronic circuitry followed by cars then refined petroleum oils.

The following searchable table displays 200 of the most in-demand goods shipped from South Korea during 2017. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2016.

RankSouth Korean Export Product2017 Value (US$)Change
1Integrated circuits/microassemblies$86.1 billion+64.7%
2Cars$38.8 billion+3.6%
3Processed petroleum oils$33.5 billion+31.4%
4Cruise/cargo ships, barges$24.1 billion-4.4%
5Automobile parts/accessories$19.5 billion-10.6%
6Light vessels, fire boats, floating docks$15.8 billion+104.7%
7Phone system devices including smartphones $15.7 billion-36.7%
8Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools$15.5 billion-4.2%
9Cyclic hydrocarbons$10.1 billion+27.6%
10TV/radio/radar device parts$8.2 billion+28.6%
11Miscellaneous machine electrical parts$8.1 billion+20,095%
12Computer parts, accessories$7.6 billion+78.4%
13Machinery for making semi-conductors$6.9 billion+64%
14Computers, optical readers$6.3 billion+40.2%
15Solar power diodes/semi-conductors$6.2 billion+9%
16Miscellaneous machinery$6.1 billion+25.7%
17Electric storage batteries$6 billion+19.7%
18Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)$5.9 billion+19.6%
19Printed circuits$5.5 billion+26%
20Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products$4.9 billion+13.1%
21Miscellaneous iron and steel structures$4.8 billion+27%
22Polyacetal/ether/carbonates$4.8 billion+14.9%
23Ethylene polymers$4.1 billion+8.3%
24Propylene/olefin polymers$4 billion+16.5%
25Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations$3.9 billion+13.7%
26Styrene polymers$3.8 billion+24%
27Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates$3.6 billion+24.4%
28Rubber tires (new)$3.4 billion+0.7%
29Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)$3.1 billion+29.1%
30Other measuring/testing machines$3 billion+48.3%
31Synthetic rubber$3 billion+38.7%
32Acyclic hydrocarbons$3 billion+27%
33Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips$2.9 billion+8.7%
34Insulated wire/cable$2.9 billion-0.1%
35Polycarboxylic acids$2.8 billion+25.4%
36Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches$2.8 billion-3.2%
37Lower-voltage switches, fuses$2.8 billion+6.8%
38Air or vacuum pumps$2.7 billion+9.6%
39Piston engine parts$2.6 billion-0.4%
40Refrigerators, freezers$2.5 billion-3.7%
41Machinery parts$2.4 billion+21.3%
42Cold-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products$2.3 billion+20.3%
43Electrical converters/power units$2.3 billion+2.7%
44Flat-rolled stainless steel items$2.1 billion+12.2%
45Miscellaneous iron or steel tubes, pipes$2 billion+62.5%
46Taps, valves, similar appliances$2 billion-8.4%
47Moulding boxes/base$1.9 billion+3%
48Flat-rolled other alloy steel products$1.9 billion+14.6%
49Blood fractions (including antisera)$1.9 billion+29.3%
50TV receivers/monitors/projectors$1.8 billion-19.1%
51Self-adhesive plastic in rolls$1.8 billion+16.7%
52Aircraft parts$1.8 billion+7.1%
53Trucks$1.7 billion+8.8%
54Temperature-change machines$1.7 billion-19.3%
55Synthetic yarn woven fabrics$1.7 billion-4.6%
56Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)$1.7 billion+8.5%
57Miscellaneous iron or steel items$1.6 billion+2.2%
58Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels$1.6 billion-19.3%
59Zinc (unwrought)$1.6 billion+26.9%
60TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras$1.5 billion-44.6%
61Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips$1.5 billion+8.4%
62Refined copper, unwrought alloys$1.5 billion+13.7%
63Interchangeable hand/machine tools$1.5 billion+6.6%
64Centrifuges, filters and purifiers$1.5 billion-3.4%
65Liquid pumps and elevators$1.5 billion-4.8%
66Miscellaneous plastic items$1.5 billion+7.5%
67Goldsmith/silversmith wares$1.4 billion+1,056%
68Acrylic polymers$1.4 billion+25%
69Transmission shafts, gears, clutches$1.4 billion-0.6%
70Other than warp-knit fabrics$1.4 billion-3.8%
71Plastic packing goods, lids, caps$1.4 billion+7.3%
72Silver (unwrought)$1.4 billion-17.8%
73Aluminum plates, sheets, strips$1.4 billion+22.6%
74Air conditioners$1.4 billion-1.2%
75Petroleum oil residues$1.3 billion+63.9%
76Coated paper$1.3 billion+6.3%
77Hydrogen, rare gases$1.3 billion-0.8%
78Electrical capacitators$1.3 billion+29.1%
79Other nitrogen compounds$1.2 billion+78.8%
80Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters$1.2 billion-6.6%
81Engines (diesel)$1.2 billion+0.2%
82Electric motors, generators$1.2 billion-11.4%
83Lifting/loading machinery$1.2 billion+17.7%
84Uncarded synthetic staple fibers$1.2 billion+20.3%
85Wide knit or crochet fabrics$1.1 billion-8.4%
86Cigars/cigarellos, cigarettes$1.1 billion+14.7%
87Electrical machinery$1.1 billion+14.2%
88Washing machines$1.1 billion-0.7%
89Warships, lifeboats$1 billion+356.0%
90Chemical industry products/residuals$1 billion+6.4%
91Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)$1 billion+33.6%
92Synthetic filament yarn$1 billion+6.7%
93Ball, roller bearings$1 billion+16.3%
94Piston engines$961.3 million-4.2%
95Amino-resins$945 million+33.4%
96Printing machinery$929.8 million-4.2%
97Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)$926.1 million-0.01%
98Regulate/control instruments$905.9 million-13.7%
99Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers$858.3 million-4.9%
100Unrecorded sound media$853.9 million-23.2%
101Textile fabrics with plastics$847.1 million+0.7%
102Iron or steel pipe fittings$843.7 million-3.3%
103Lead (unwrought)$839.5 million+9.4%
104Public-transport vehicles$807.4 million+4.4%
105Aircraft, spacecraft$806 million+224.4%
106Yarn wash/clean/iron machines$801.5 million+10.5%
107Acyclic alcohols$786.2 million+21.9%
108Vapour-based boilers$785 million-5.5%
109Other food preparations$782.4 million+15.9%
110Physical/chemical analysis tools$780.8 million+0.3%
111Medication mixes in dosage$764.4 million+3.4%
112Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers$735.1 million+11.7%
113Personal toilet/shaving preparations, deodorants$734 million+69.4%
114Phenols/phenol-alcohols$724.1 million+39.5%
115Rubber/plastic article making machines$710.3 million+9.1%
116Lenses, prisms, mirrors$708.9 million+4.1%
117Chemicals used in electronics$691.6 million+9.1%
118Oxometal/peroxometal acid salts$690.6 million+60.9%
119Copper wire$687.5 million+32.6%
120Base metal mountings, fittings$681.4 million+16.6%
121Whole fish (frozen)$668.8 million+10.8%
122Iron or non-alloy steel angles, shapes, sections$649.7 million+8.7%
123Vulcanized rubber items$627.6 million+3.6%
124Miscellaneous engines, motors$624.2 million+54.8%
125Iron ferroalloys$613.7 million+41.8%
126Iron and steel tubes, pipes$605.3 million+49.1%
127X-ray equipment$596.9 million+15.5%
128Metal-removing lathes$590.6 million+25.4%
129Turbo-jets$585.7 million+30%
130Machine-tool for metal$583.9 million-3.3%
131Vinyl chloride polymers$582.5 million+7.3%
132Copper plates, sheets, strips$576.5 million+36.5%
133Polyamides$576.2 million+18.4%
134Other machine parts, accessories$573.8 million+25%
135Made-up clothing accessories, parts$570.6 million+6.9%
136Photographic chemicals$570 million+19.6%
137Electric ignition/start equipment$562.5 million-11.1%
138Tractors$560.6 million+5.2%
139Gold (unwrought)$557.8 million-51.6%
140Metal soldering/hot-spray equipment$554.6 million-6.9%
141Electric water heaters, hair dryers$544.1 million+3.3%
142Fork-lift trucks$529.5 million+15.4%
143Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs$525 million-27.4%
144Copper foil$524.6 million+23.5%
145Other organic cleaning preparations$519.7 million+12.4%
146Plastic tile or roll coverings$515.4 million+4.1%
147Heterocyclics, nucleic acids$514.5 million+3.3%
148Pasta, couscous$514.5 million+25.6%
149Iron and steel stranded wire, cables (uninsulated)$513.3 million+2.1%
150Paint/varnish non-aqueous solution$510.7 million+2.6%
151 Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines $507.9 million+25.3%
152Radar, radio communication items$507.7 million+4.4%
153Bent, edgeworked glass$497.9 million+5.4%
154Iron or steel tubes, pipes$490.2 million+36.1%
155Synthetic organic coloring$486.3 million+8.2%
156Metal-working machinery$481.7 million+2.9%
157Flat-rolled stainless steel items (thin)$472.8 million+119.8%
158Other animal leather$468.5 million-10.9%
159Bombs, grenades, ammunition$467.4 million+22.7%
160Petroleum resins$463.5 million+14.2%
161Prepared glues, miscellaneous adhesives$459 million+11.6%
162Microphones/headphones/amps$452.3 million+2%
163Orthopedic appliances$432.7 million+21.1%
164Locks, lock-keys$423.7 million-6.3%
165Warp knit fabrics$422.5 million-3.4%
166Packaged insecticides/fungicides/herbicides$421.4 million+27.1%
167Material removal machine-tools$419 million+99.9%
168High-voltage switches, fuses$417.7 million+0.3%
169Pigments, enamels, glazes$415.7 million-25%
170Other diagnostic/lab reagents$404.8 million+50.2%
171Nitrile-function compounds$400 million+49.6%
172Unsaturated acyclic mono acids$397.3 million+14.9%
173Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished)$392.4 million+225.3%
174Non-alcoholic drinks (not water/juice/milk)$388.6 million-3.5%
175Inorganic compounds, distilled/conductivity water$383.3 million+1,544%
176Coiled iron or non-alloy steel bars, rods$382 million+6.4%
177Iron or non-alloy steel wire$379.5 million+6.5%
178Cermet plates, sticks, tips$378 million+12.9%
179Petroleum gases$377.7 million+11.7%
180Iron or steel scrap$372 million+27.8%
181Telecommunication receivers$371.8 million-2.1%
182Coated/laminated non-wovens$370.8 million-0.6%
183Electric motor parts$366.6 million+4.3%
184Aluminum foil (thin)$353.1 million+15.5%
185Copper tubes, pipes$352.7 million+14.3%
186Spray/dispersing mechanical appliances$346.5 million-20.3%
187Cast/rolled glass in sheets$338.6 million+21.7%
188Miscellaneous aluminum items$329.6 million+17%
189Fish fillets, pieces$323 million+13.4%
190Magnets including electro-magnets$320 million+13.7%
191Alloy steel bars, rods$313.1 million+36.7%
192Worn clothing$307 million+13.7%
193Aluminum (unwrought)$298.2 million+50.9%
194Insoles, heel cushions$298.1 million-10.1%
195Other alloy steel wire$296.5 million+20.4%
196Miscellaneous heterocyclics$295.9 million+24.3%
197Ceramic wares for lab, chemical, technical use$291.1 million+7.9%
198Copper bars, rods$286 million+55%
199Locust beans$284.9 million+50.8%
200Ketones, quinones$276.1 million+53.4%

These 200 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$529.1 billion or 92.2% by value for all products exported from South Korea during 2017.

See also South Korea’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, South Korea’s Top Trade Partners and Top South Korean Trade Balances

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on August 31, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on August 31, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on August 31, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on August 31, 2018

Wikipedia, List of Companies of South Korea. Accessed on August 31, 2018

Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on October 21, 2015