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SMEs struggle in export market

Record 2018 figures only really benefited major conglomerates

May 09,2019
While Korean exports passed a milestone $600 billion last year, most of that figure still came from conglomerates.

A recent study has found that, despite government efforts to diversify Korea’s export sources, there continues to be a wide gap between major conglomerates and small and medium-sized enterprises.

According to Statistics Korea and the Korea Customs Services, last year 67 percent, or $403.8 billion, of exports came from conglomerates. SME exports only accounted for $101.6 billion. But contribution to exports wasn’t the only difference between conglomerates and their smaller counterparts.

Conglomerate exports last year grew 6.2 percent, or $23.5 billion, while those from SMEs barely changed at all, inching up just 0.2 percent, or $200 million.

The statistics and custom agencies have found that top-tier exporters took up one-third of Korean exports.

According to the study, the top 10 companies last year saw exports grow 10.4 percent compared to the previous year to $228.8 billion. This accounts for 38 percent of all Korea’s exports, a 1.8 percentage point increase.

These top 10 exporters are mostly big companies that ship out major export goods like semiconductors, refined petroleum goods and petrochemical goods.

The top 100 companies account for 66.9 percent of exports, a 0.3 percentage point increase.

The study has found that mining and manufacturing goods account for the majority of goods exported overseas, at 84.1 percent.

Even among mining and manufacturing goods, electric, electronics and precision machinery, which includes semiconductors, took up the majority with 42.5 percent. Semiconductors alone were responsible for 20 percent of all exported goods.

Refined oil and petrochemical goods, which are also major exported items mostly produced by leading conglomerates, came in second with 17.1 percent and automobile and automotive parts were the third-largest exported goods, accounting for 15.8 percent.

Wholesale and retail goods accounted for 12.4 percent of exports.

While China remained Korea’s largest export market as a single country, Southeast Asia was the largest economic bloc.

Exports to China accounted for 26.8 percent at $16.2 billion. Southeast Asia accounted for 27.6 percent with $16.6 billion.

The United States accounted for 12 percent with $6.8 billion.

Last year, imports from the United States by Korean conglomerates saw a significant increase, growing 23.7 percent, a stark contrast to the 2.8 percent increase in exports.

For Korean SMEs, exports to the United States saw a stronger growth than imports at 6.6 percent. SME imports of American goods grew 2.8 percent. The study also found that while Korea’s overall exports in 2018 reached an all-time high, when it came to growth, it fell far short of that of 2017.

Conglomerate exports in 2017 compared to the previous year grew nearly 20 percent while SMEs saw 10.3 percent growth. The drop is especially huge for SMEs, which only increased 0.2 percent in 2018.


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]


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