Battery, EV, bio sectors drive Korean exports as mainstays falter

2019.05.23 14:57:06

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South Korea’s export portfolio is undergoing a massive shift with secondary batteries, electric vehicles and biopharmaceuticals fielded to make up for the losses of traditional mainstays like semiconductors and petroleum products.

Exports for nine new high-growth sectors totaled $14.6 billion in the first quarter, up 7.9 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Thursday.

Exports of EVs surged 123.9 percent year over year, and those of secondary batteries up 11.9 percent and biopharmaceuticals 10.0 percent. The nine sectors accounted for 11 percent of Korea’s total exports in the first quarter, a record high, with their combined shipments expanding more than threefold over the past decade.

The annual export growth of EVs neared 100 percent over the past three-year period. Demand remained high among developed markets. Last year, half of EV and hybrid imports to the European Union came from Korea.

The rise of EVs has also fueled the growth of secondary batteries used to power those vehicles. Exports of Korean-made batteries have been on a hot streak, showing a double-digit growth for three straight years. Experts say the growth trend is likely to continue given the unfazed demand from major automakers.

Biopharmaceutical shipments have also been growing at double digits for the past five years, led by high value-added products like biosimilars and ultrasonic imaging devices.

Exports of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays gained 4.2 percent on year in the first quarter. Annual exports topped $10 billion for the first time in 2018 thanks to sustained demand for the big-screen premium TVs and new smartphones. Led by Korean tech giants Samsung and LG, the country claimed the dominant 95.9 percent share in the world’s OLED market last year.

Meanwhile Korea’s overall exports are poised to extend their sixth straight month of decline due to the memory chip downturn and the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest markets. Exports in the first 20 days of May totaled $25.7 billion, down 11.7 percent from the same period a year ago. Chip shipments shriveled 33 percent on year, with petroleum good exports down 5.1 percent. Shipments to China, Korea’s biggest trading partner, tumbled 15.9 percent. U.S. exports were also down 4.4 percent and the E.U. off 19.4 percent.

By Lim Sung-hyun and Kim Hyo-jin

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