South Korea suffered a 15.7 percent fall in exports to China in the first quarter this year, data showed Sunday.
It marks the biggest drop in seven years in South Korea's outbound shipments to China, its single biggest market. China accounts for about 25 percent of South Korea's total exports, Yonhap news agency reported.
Exports to China stood at US$28.5 billion in the year's first three months, down 15.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).
Experts cited a structural problem and suggested a shift in trade strategy.
"Over 70 percent of South Korean goods exported to China are intermediate goods. China's demand for those is diminishing," said Park Jin-woo, head of KITA's strategic market research office. "In particular, China is making massive investments and expanding facilities in such sectors as semiconductors, while reducing imports".
He stressed the need for targeting the consumer goods market instead.
South Korea's exports to the United States also sank 3.3 percent on-year to $16.8 billion in the January-March period and imports were down 4.9 percent to $10.1 billion.
Trade with Japan remains in trouble as well. Exports fell 13.1 percent to $5.5 billion, representing a double-digit drop for the sixth consecutive quarter, and imports dwindled 11.2 percent to $10.6 billion.
In contrast, exports to Vietnam, which has emerged as South Korea's third-largest exports market, maintained an upward trend. Exports grew 7.6 percent to $7 billion, although growth rates showed signs of slowing.
South Korea's combined exports plunged 13.1 percent in the first quarter to $116 billion, sharply reducing the economy's dependence on trade, according to the trade ministry.
The ratio of the nation's trade to its gross national income (GNI) stood at 88.1 percent at the end of last year, the Bank of Korea also said in separate data.
The figure represents the lowest since 2007, when it recorded 81.6 percent.