South Korea's trade surplus shrank significantly from a year earlier in September as imports grew faster than exports, the government said Saturday.
The country's trade surplus reached US$1.44 billion last month, down from $4.41 billion in the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.
Exports grew 19.6 percent from a year earlier to $47.12 billion while imports surged 30.5 percent to a new monthly high of $45.68 billion.
September's trade surplus, however, marks a 75 percent spike from the previous month when the country's trade surplus came to $821 million. September also marks the 20th straight month the country's trade balance stayed in the black.
"The country's exports continued to grow despite global market uncertainties, such as spreading concerns over a crisis originating from the eurozone and a slowdown of the U.S. economic recovery, as shipments of its export items rose steadily," the ministry said in a press release.
Exports of petroleum products grew 56.8 percent on-year with those of automobiles and petrochemical products also soaring 40 percent and 30.9 percent, respectively, it added.
The government earlier said petroleum products have been the country's single largest export item since March with 39.41 million barrels, worth $4.66 billion, of products shipped overseas in August alone. Figures for September are not currently available as government reports on exports of petroleum products in a given month are due at the end of the following month.
Shipments of semiconductors, on the other hand, dropped 4.2 percent despite a recent rise in global prices as demands from large markets, such as the United States, further dwindled, the ministry said.
Falling prices of semiconductors, previously the country's number one export item, had long been blamed for drops in the country's exports as shipments of semiconductors shrank 12.4 percent on-year to $4.04 billion in July while the average price of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips fell to $0.8 from $2.6 a year earlier.
Imports grew sharply in September as the country significantly increased its purchase of oil and natural gas, used partly as raw materials to produce other products, the ministry said.
The country's natural gas imports more than doubled from $1.62 billion in September 2010 to more than $3.3 billion last month. Imports of oil and coal also rose sharply by 56.7 percent and 73.4 percent, respectively.
By country, South Korea's shipments to Japan surged 48.7 percent on-year with exports to the 10 member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, also jumping 43.2 percent.
Exports to Europe, however, slowed to a 11.2 percent on-year increase from an increase of 12 percent in August.