South Korea shipped US$495.5 billion worth of products around the globe in 2016. That figure represents roughly 3.1% of overall global exports estimated at $16.236 trillion for 2015.
From a continental perspective, 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.
South Korea’s Top Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 15 of South Korea’s top trading partners in terms of export sales during 2016. 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.
- China: US$124.4 billion (25.1% of total Korean exports)
- United States: $66.8 billion (13.5%)
- Hong Kong: $32.8 billion (6.6%)
- Vietnam: $32.7 billion (6.6%)
- Japan: $24.4 billion (4.9%)
- Singapore: $12.5 billion (2.5%)
- Taiwan: $12.2 billion (2.5%)
- India: $11.6 billion (2.3%)
- Mexico: $9.7 billion (2%)
- Marshall Islands: $7.7 billion (1.6%)
- Malaysia: $7.5 billion (1.5%)
- Australia: $7.5 billion (1.5%)
- Philippines: $7.3 billion (1.5%)
- United Kingdom: $6.9 billion (1.4%)
- Indonesia: $6.6 billion (1.3%)
Three-quarters (74.8%) of Korean exports in 2016 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
Vietnam increased its imports from South Korea at the fastest pace, up 356.7% over from 2009 to 2016. In contrast, our studies show that only the Marshall Islands (down -20.1%) and Singapore (down -8.5%) cut back on their South Korean purchases over the 7-year period.
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 2016, South Korea incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:
- Japan: -US$23.1 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2016)
- Germany: -$12.5 billion
- Saudi Arabia: -$10.1 billion
- Qatar: -$9.5 billion
- Australia: -$7.7 billion
- Kuwait: -$5.8 billion
- Taiwan: -$4.2 billion
- Russia: -$3.9 billion
- Iraq: -$3.6 billion
- France: -$3.3 billion
Among South Korea’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, South Korean deficits with Taiwan (up 1,094%), Germany (up 258.7%) and France (up 212.5%) grew at the fastest pace from 2009 to 2016.
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.
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 2016, South Korea incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries:
- China: US$37.5 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2016)
- Hong Kong: $31.2 billion
- United States: $23.4 billion
- Vietnam: $20.2 billion
- Marshall Islands: $7.6 billion
- India: $7.4 billion
- Mexico: $6 billion
- Singapore: $5.7 billion
- Turkey: $4.6 billion
- Philippines: $4 billion
Among South Korea’s trading partners that cause the greatest positive trade balances, South Korean surpluses with Vietnam (up 321.7%), United States (up 170.3%) and the Philippines (up 111.4%) grew at the fastest pace from 2009 to 2016.
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 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, Highest Value South Korean Import Products and Top South Korean Trade Balances
The World Factbook, Field Listing: Imports – Commodities, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on January 25, 2017
Trade Map, International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org/marketanalysis. Accessed on January 25, 2017
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on January 25, 2017
Korea Trade World, South Korean Suppliers. Accessed on August 5, 2016