[SEOUL] South Korean exports and imports both fell on an annual basis in the first 20 days of this month, customs agency data showed on Thursday, extending the slump that began last year but was less severe than the drop seen in December.
Exports for the Jan. 1-20 period fell 8.9 per cent from a year earlier to US$22.28 billion while imports dropped 18.1 per cent to US$20.86 billion, the Korea Customs Service data showed without elaborating.
South Korea is the first country in the world to publish trade data every month, acting as a gauge for global demand. Full month figures will be released by the trade ministry on Feb 1.
The numbers were announced shortly after South Korea's Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho said that external, as well as internal, economic conditions were troubling.
"The global economy is showing few signs of improvement as China's growth has eased to the 6-percent range while the International Monetary Fund has lowered global growth for this year to 3.4 per cent from 3.6 per cent," Mr Yoo said in opening remarks at a government meeting in Seoul.
Earlier this week, data showed economic growth in China, South Korea's biggest trade partner, in the fourth quarter slowed to 6.8 per cent on-year, the weakest since the global financial crisis.
Although exports are widely expected to remain weak in January, Thursday's data showed the weakness may be less severe than December when exports in the Dec 1-20 period last year fell 13.6 per cent when adjusted for working day discrepancies.
As demand from its main customers softens, South Korea is aiming to boost exports to other countries, like Iran.
Mr Yoo said on Thursday South Korea aims to double exports Iran in two years, with construction and shipbuilding firms seen to benefit from the recent lifting of international sanctions on Iran.
He added the government would draw up measures by the end of February to strengthen business relations with Iran. South Korea's exports to Iran accounted for 0.7 per cent of total shipments in 2015.