South Korea’s Top Trading Partners

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Officially named the Republic of Korea, South Korea is strategically located between the world’s second-leading importer China to the west and fourth-place importer Japan to the east.

South Korea shipped US$573.3 billion worth of products around the globe in 2017. That figure represents roughly 3.6% of overall global exports estimated at $15.952 trillion for 2016.

From a continental perspective, almost two-thirds (63.7%) of South Korea’s exports by value were delivered to other Asian countries while 14.7% were sold to North American importers.

South Korea shipped another 11.7% worth of goods to Europe. Just 1.9% are destined for customers in Africa.

South Korea’s Top Trading Partners

Top 15

Below is a list showcasing 15 of South Korea’s top trading partners in terms of export sales during 2017. That is, these are countries that imported the most Korean shipments by dollar value. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Korean exports.

  1. China: US$142.1 billion (24.8% of total Korean exports)
  2. United States: $68.9 billion (12%)
  3. Vietnam: $47.7 billion (8.3%)
  4. Hong Kong: $39.1 billion (6.8%)
  5. Japan: $26.8 billion (4.7%)
  6. Australia: $19.9 billion (3.5%)
  7. India: $15.1 billion (2.6%)
  8. Taiwan: $14.9 billion (2.6%)
  9. Singapore: $11.6 billion (2%)
  10. Mexico: $10.9 billion (1.9%)
  11. Philippines: $10.6 billion (1.8%)
  12. United Kingdom: $8.6 billion (1.5%)
  13. Germany: $8.5 billion (1.5%)
  14. Indonesia: $8.4 billion (1.5%)
  15. Malaysia: $8 billion (1.4%)

Over three-quarters (76.9%) of South Korean exports in 2017 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.

Fourteen of these top 15 trade partners boosted their purchases of South Korean goods led by Australia (up 164.7%), Vietnam (up 46.3%), Philippines (up 45.6%), Germany (up 31.7%) and India (up 29.8%).

The sole top partner to cut back on its imports from South Korea was Singapore via a -6.5% downturn.

Deficits

As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.

It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.

In 2017, South Korea incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:

  1. Japan: -US$28.3 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2017)
  2. Saudi Arabia: -$14.4 billion
  3. Germany: -$11.3 billion
  4. Qatar: -$10.8 billion
  5. Kuwait: -$8.4 billion
  6. Russia: -$5.1 billion
  7. Iraq: -$4.9 billion
  8. United Arab Emirates: -$4.2 billion
  9. Iran: -$4 billion
  10. Taiwan: -$3.2 billion

Among South Korea’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, South Korean deficits with Iran (up 328.2%), United Arab Emirates (up 288.5%) and Kuwait (up 44.2%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate South Korea’s competitive disadvantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for South Korea to develop country-specific strategies to strengthen its overall position in international trade.

Surpluses

Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.

In 2017, South Korea incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries:

  1. China: US$44.3 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2017)
  2. Hong Kong: $37.2 billion
  3. Vietnam: $31.6 billion
  4. United States: $18 billion
  5. India: $10.1 billion
  6. Philippines: $6.9 billion
  7. Marshall Islands: $6.8 billion
  8. Mexico: $6.5 billion
  9. Turkey: $5.4 billion
  10. Norway: $3.4 billion

Among South Korea’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, South Korean deficits with Norway (up 83%), Philippines (up 70.2%) and Vietnam (up 56.8%) grew at the fastest pace from 2016 to 2017.

These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate South Korea’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for South Korea to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.

Companies

Companies Servicing Korean Trading Partners

According to Korea Trade World’s directory, the following are examples of entrepreneurial companies that ship products from South Korea to its trading partners around the globe. Shown within parenthesis are examples of products that the Korean business specializes in.

  • Auk Corp. (electronics transistors, diodes)
  • Changeui Medical Co. Ltd (orthopedic/ambulatory/rehab appliances)
  • Dana Biz Co. (home entertainment, security systems)
  • Dyna Solution Co., Ltd. (metal-cutting/forming fluids, special oil)
  • Kaps Korea Auto Parts Servies Co. Ltd (vehicle parts, accessories)
  • Koinonia (iron ore, steel scrap)
  • Manda International Co. Ltd (computer peripherals)
  • P.K. Chemicals, Inc. (petrochemicals, additives)
  • Rits International Korea (oil, gas)
  • Segae Precision Co. Ltd (disposible syringes)
  • YM Corp (mobile phone/GPS jammers)


 

See also South Korea’s Top 10 Exports, South Korea’s Top 10 Imports, Top South Korean Trade Balances and Top Asian Export Countries

Research Sources:
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 3, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on February 3, 2018

Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on February 3, 2018

Korea Trade World, South Korean Suppliers. Accessed on August 5, 2016