That dollar total represents a 6.1% year-over-year increase from $644.4 billion during 2021 and a 13% gain compared to $605.2 billion in 2018.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2022, the South Korean won has depreciated by -17.4% against the US dollar since 2018 and diluted by -12.9% from 2021 to 2022. The Republic of South Korea’s weaker local currency made Korean exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive in 2022.
South Korea’s 5 biggest export products by value in 2022 were electronic integrated circuits, refined petroleum oils, cars, automobile parts or accessories, then recorded media. In aggregate, those major exports accounted for almost two-fifths (38.8%) of South Korea’s overall exports. That percentage suggests a relatively concentrated range of exported goods.
South Korea is the world leader for exporting cruise or cargo ships and ranks among the top countries for global sales of electronic integrated circuits, cars, refined oils and mobile phones.
South Korea’s Best International Trade Customers
The latest available country-specific data shows that about three-quarters (74%) of products exported from South Korea were bought by importers in: mainland China (22.8% of South Korea’s total), United States of America (16.1%), Vietnam (8.9%), Japan (4.5%), Hong Kong (4%), Taiwan (3.8%), Singapore (3%), India (2.8%), Australia (2.7%), Mexico (1.9%), Philippines (1.8%) and Malaysia (1.7%).
From a continental perspective, under two-thirds (60.9%) of South Korea’s exports by value in 2022 were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 19.1% were sold to North American importers. South Korea shipped another 12.2% worth of goods to Europe.
Smaller percentages went to Oceania (3.8%) led by Australia and New Zealand, Africa (2%), then Latin America (1.9%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Given South Korea’s population of 51.6 million people, its total $683.6 billion in products exported during 2022 translates to roughly $13,200 for every resident in the southeast Asian nation. That per-capita dollar amount exceeds the average $12,400 in 2021.
South Korea’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in South Korean global shipments during 2022. South Korea’s top 10 exports are relatively concentrated, accounting for 84% of the overall value of its shipments. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall South Korean exports.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$210.4 billion (30.8% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $75.6 billion (11.1%)
- Machinery including computers: $73 billion (10.7%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $64.8 billion (9.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $41.2 billion (6%)
- Iron, steel: $28.1 billion (4.1%)
- Organic chemicals: $24.7 billion (3.6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $18.2 billion (2.7%)
- Ships, boats: $17.1 billion (2.5%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $15.6 billion (2.3%)
The fastest gainers among South Korea’s top export product categories are inorganic chemicals (up 101.2% from 2021), mineral fuels including oil (up 61.8%), vehicles (up 12.8%) then organic chemicals (up 5.3%).
The severest decline belongs to the capital-intensive ships and boats dragged down by a -22.2% year-over-year reduction.
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 this article.
South Korean Major Product Trade Surpluses
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 represent 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.
- Electrical machinery, equipment: US$78.7 billion (Down by -8.5% since 2021)
- Vehicles: $54 billion (Up by 14.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $27.3 billion (Down by -5.8%)
- Ships, boats: $14.9 billion (Down by -22.6%)
- Iron, steel: $9.2 billion (Down by -3%)
- Organic chemicals: $8.6 billion (Up by 14.6%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $5.7 billion (Down by -18.5%)
- Machinery including computers: $4.6 billion (Down by -33.4%)
- Articles of iron or steel: $4.5 billion (Up by 73.3%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $4.4 billion (Down by -11.8%)
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. Albeit shrinking, these cashflows indicate South Korea’s strong competitive advantages under the electrical machinery and equipment product category.
South Korean Major Product Trade Deficits
South Korea incurred an overall -$47.8 billion trade deficit for 2022, reversing a $29.4 billion surplus generated during 2021.
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.
- Mineral fuels including oil: -US$153.9 billion (Up by 57.8% since 2021)
- Ores, slag, ash: -$20.1 billion (Down by -13.3%)
- Meat: -$7.3 billion (Up by 21.1%)
- Cereals: -$6.6 billion (Up by 31.1%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$6.2 billion (Up by 20.7%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$4.47 billion (Up by 2012.5%)
- Inorganic chemicals: -$4.38 billion (Up by 34.7%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$4.36 billion (Up by 118.5%)
- Aluminum: -$4.1 billion (Up by 13.4%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$4.1 billion (Up by 19%)
South Korea has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for crude oil and petroleum gases, key inputs needed for its highly industrialized economy to function effectively.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate South Korea’s competitive disadvantages in the international fossil fuel market, but also represent potential opportunities for South Korea to improve its position in the global economy by innovating via alternative energy supplies.
South Korea’s Main Export Companies
Wikipedia lists many of the larger international trade players from South Korea including:
- Doosan Heavy Industries (heavy machinery)
- Hynix Semiconductor (semiconductors)
- Hyundai Motor (car, truck manufacturing)
- KT&G (tobacco)
- LG Electronics (consumer electronics)
- Lotte Chemical (specialized chemicals)
- SK Holdings (oil, gas)
- S-Oil (oil, gas)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following companies are also examples of South Korean exporters.
- Hankook Tire (rubber inner tubes, vehicle tires, latex)
- LG Electronics (dryers, washing machines, refrigerators, freezers)
- Samsung Electronics (telecommunication equipment, refrigerators, freezers)
Searchable List of South Korea’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from South Korea during 2022. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2021.
|Rank||South Korean Export||Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Processed petroleum oils||$61,560,257,000||+66.3%|
|6||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$15,259,262,000||-9%|
|7||Unrecorded sound media||$14,294,772,000||+4.3%|
|8||Computer parts, accessories||$12,540,939,000||-17.4%|
|9||Oxometal/peroxometal acid salts||$11,268,256,000||+154%|
|10||Electric storage batteries||$9,981,342,000||+15.1%|
|12||Phone devices including smartphones||$8,259,013,000||-62.4%|
|13||Machinery for making semi-conductors||$8,112,884,000||-12.5%|
|14||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$7,500,049,000||+1.9%|
|17||Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$6,695,189,000||+7.5%|
|18||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$6,687,419,000||-12.7%|
|19||TV/radio/radar device parts||$6,591,293,000||-17.7%|
|22||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$5,235,802,000||-26.8%|
|24||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$4,583,602,000||-9.1%|
|25||Other measuring/testing machines||$4,058,007,000||+42.7%|
|29||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators)||$3,672,885,000||+3.2%|
|30||Optical fiber cables, sheets, plates||$3,626,087,000||-17.7%|
|31||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$3,348,900,000||+63.6%|
|32||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$3,313,875,000||-1%|
|33||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$3,251,451,000||-11.5%|
|34||Rubber tires (new)||$3,213,474,000||+9.4%|
|36||Cold-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$3,138,007,000||+1.2%|
|38||Air or vacuum pumps||$3,072,661,000||+5.7%|
|39||Piston engine parts||$3,005,932,000||+6.2%|
|40||Electrical converters/power units||$2,750,493,000||+11.7%|
|41||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$2,731,226,000||-21%|
|43||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$2,695,360,000||+24.9%|
|44||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$2,598,747,000||-18.8%|
|45||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$2,535,170,000||-1.5%|
|46||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$2,504,333,000||+10.5%|
|48||Flat-rolled other alloy steel products||$2,366,473,000||-11.4%|
|49||Miscellaneous iron or steel tubes, pipes||$2,218,708,000||+38.2%|
|50||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$2,158,733,000||+26.9%|
|52||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$2,051,237,000||+2.8%|
|53||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$2,044,246,000||-13.7%|
|55||Liquid crystal/laser/optical tools||$1,957,697,000||-71.5%|
|57||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$1,927,034,000||-3.4%|
|58||Flat-rolled stainless steel items||$1,825,553,000||-15.8%|
|59||Miscellaneous plastic items||$1,761,816,000||+1.8%|
|60||Light vessels, fire boats, floating docks||$1,710,993,000||-65.2%|
|61||Self-adhesive plastic in rolls||$1,655,235,000||-9.3%|
|63||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$1,633,278,000||-3.2%|
|65||Chemical industry products/residuals||$1,626,938,000||+7.6%|
|67||Copper ores, concentrates||$1,582,406,000||+33.5%|
|69||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$1,562,040,000||+2.1%|
|70||Coal tar oils (high temperature distillation)||$1,556,865,000||+29.2%|
|71||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$1,484,494,000||-0.7%|
|72||Liquid pumps and elevators||$1,480,674,000||+6.7%|
|73||Electric motors, generators||$1,449,147,000||+6.4%|
|74||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$1,425,102,000||-2.3%|
|76||Synthetic yarn woven fabrics||$1,391,511,000||+9.9%|
|79||Chemicals used in electronics||$1,288,952,000||+20.3%|
|80||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$1,287,239,000||-3.7%|
|81||Aircraft or spacecraft parts||$1,280,726,000||+0%|
|84||Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters||$1,264,858,000||-4.3%|
|89||Whole fish (frozen)||$1,157,673,000||+35.9%|
|92||Iron or steel pipe fittings||$1,071,841,000||+25.9%|
|93||Petroleum oil residues||$1,067,082,000||+17.4%|
|94||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$1,009,626,000||+11%|
|95||Unprocessed synthetic staple fibers||$1,004,552,000||-11.1%|
|96||Oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers||$994,513,000||-2.8%|
|98||Other nitrogen compounds||$978,669,000||+20.2%|
|100||Synthetic filament yarn||$971,545,000||-15.7%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$567.5 billion or over four-fifth (83%) by value for all products exported from South Korea during 2022.
In macroeconomic terms, South Korea’s total exported goods represent 24.7% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2022 ($2.766 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 24.7% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2022 compares to 25.7% one year earlier. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for South Korea’s total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. South Korea’s unemployment rate averaged 3% for 2022, down from an average 3.675% in 2021 according to the International Monetary Fund.
South Korea’s capital city is Seoul.
See also South Korea’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, South Korea’s Top Trade Partners and Top South Korean Trade Balances
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: Country Profiles. Accessed on March 25, 2023
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 25, 2023
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 25, 2023
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 25, 2023
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 25, 2023
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on March 25, 2023
Wikipedia, List of Companies of South Korea. Accessed on March 25, 2023
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on March 25, 2023
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on March 25, 2023