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South Korea’s president vows ‘export first’ policy as Dec exports fall

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SEOUL — South Korea’s exports in December fell from a year earlier for the third consecutive month, data showed on Sunday, with the outlook clouded by a Chinese economy fighting a surge in COVID-19 cases at a time of slowing global growth.

South Korea is the first major exporting economy to release trade data each month, providing an early glimpse into the state of global demand.

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The trade ministry data showed exports fell in December by 9.5% from a year earlier, as sharp declines in shipments to China and Southeast Asia more than offset modest growth in sales to the United States and the European Union.

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The decline was slightly less than a median 10.1% drop forecast in a Reuters poll and a 14.0% slide in November, but marked a third straight month of falls – the longest such spell since late 2020.

President Yoon Suk-yeol said in his New Year’s address that his government would make boosting exports a top policy priority in 2023, saying exports are the basis and source of jobs for the trade-reliant economy.

“We must get over the complex crisis through exports,” Yoon said during the televised address, pointing to a global economy faced with a mix of many, diverse sources of instability ranging from supply, demand and political factors.

The trade ministry has said it would provide strong policy support to exporters to avoid a decline in exports in 2023, which the government officially projects will fall 4.5% due to the global economic slowdown.

Exports for the full year of 2022 rose 6.1% to $683.9 billion, but imports grew 18.9% to $731.2 billion, resulting in a record trade deficit of $47.2 billion.

Official data from China on Saturday showed that factory activity shrank in December at the sharpest pace since the pandemic emerged three years ago following a decision to drop its strict zero-COVID policy that set off a wave of infections. (Reporting by Choonsik Yoo; Editing by Richard Chang and Neil Fullick)

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