South Korea's exports hit an all-time high last year on brisk sales of memory chips and petrochemical goods, government data showed Tuesday.
Outbound shipments came to $605.5 billion for 2018, up 5.5 percent from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
Imports jumped 11.8 percent on-year to $535 billion last year for a trade surplus of $70.5 billion, marking 10th consecutive year the country exported more goods than it bought, the ministry said.
Annual exports surpassed $600 billion for the first time, making South Korea the world's sixth-largest exporter.
Total trade volume exceeded $1 trillion for the second year in a row in line with the global economic recovery.
Shipments of memory chips hit a record $126.7 billion, and those for general machinery and petrochemical products broke the previous record to exceed $50 billion this year.
In contrast, sales of autos, displays and steel backtracked compared with a year ago due to toughening global competition and rising import restrictions in major markets.
Exports to China, South Korea's largest market, surged 14.2 percent on-year to $162.2 billion thanks to strong demand for memory chips, petrochemical goods and general machinery.
Shipments to the United States gained 6 percent to $72.7 billion, led by general machinery and memory chips, despite tougher import restrictions imposed by the Donald Trump administration.
Sales in Southeast Asian nations increased 5.3 percent to $100.3 billion on the back of memory chips, petrochemical goods, making the regional economic bloc a key market.
Exports in December declined 1.2 percent on-year to $48.5 billion due to sluggish sales of autos and displays, while imports edged up 0.9 percent to $43.91 billion.
December marked 83 consecutive months in which the value of the country's exports exceeded imports.
The government recognized Korean exporters' for the upbeat performance amid rising protectionism and volatile global financial markets. It vowed to provide continued support to help the country maintain the upward momentum in 2019.
"The business environment is not favorable this year due to slowing growth in major economies and trade disputes between the U.S. and China," industry minister Sung Yun-mo said during his visit to the Port of Busan, the nation's main maritime gateway. "We will actively deal with imminent trade issues and explore ways to expand our foothold in promising markets to overcome the negative prospects."
South Korean economic policy think tanks have painted a gloomy outlook for Asia's fourth-largest economy this year on concerns over slowing exports and tepid domestic demand.
The Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade projected the nation's exports to rise 3.7 percent to $633 billion in 2019, sharply down from this year's growth projection of 6.4 percent. (Yonhap)