Korea set to be U.S. fifth-largest export market for first time


For the first time, South Korea is expected to rank fifth among U.S. export markets on an annual basis, which will be revealed when 2021 data is released in early February.

It will rank seventh for imports and, for the ninth consecutive year, sixth overall.

Among major Asian trading partners, South Korea is the only one where it ranks higher for its US exports than it imports to the US.

China, for example, ranks third in exports but first in imports. Taiwan ranks 10th for US exports, eighth for US imports. Vietnam ranks 29th and sixth. Japan and India rank equally for exports and imports, fourth and tenth respectively.

This is the sixth in a series of columns focusing on each of the United States’ top 10 trading partners. I have previously written a column on Mexico, currently the country’s largest trading partner, Canada, China, Japan and Germany.

After this analysis of South Korea, there are articles on No. 7 United Kingdom, No. 8 Taiwan, No. 9 India and No. 10 Vietnam. These 10 account for two-thirds of all US trade, with just the top three at over 43% this year.

I’ve written a series of similar articles on the top 10 ports in the country – the top-ranked Port of Los Angeles, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Port Laredo in Texas, JFK International in New York, Port of Newark, Port of Houston, Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, Los Angeles International Airport and Port of Savannah.

All are based on my analysis of US Census Bureau data, which I have been slicing and dicing over two decades.

U.S. trade with South Korea, which will set its 10th total trade record in the past 12 years, is also more balanced than the U.S. average with all nations.

For South Korea, 41 cents of every trade dollar is a US export. For the United States as a whole, 38% of all trade is exports and 62% imports.

For China, the percentage of US exports is 23%, the highest percentage in decades. Japan is at 36%, Taiwan at 32%, India at 35% and Vietnam at 10%.

For South Korea, the dominant imports are passenger vehicles, at 19% of total value, followed by computer parts, digital storage devices, motor vehicle parts, refined petroleum, electric batteries, cell phones and computer parts and chips.

On the export side, the big three are petroleum, semiconductor machinery and parts, and natural gases like LNG. These three countries accounted for a third of all exports through November, according to the latest available data.

For the first time since 2005, the port of Los Angeles will represent less than 10% of South Korea’s trade with the United States. And, for the first time since that same year, San Francisco International will represent more than 8% of the total.

While the Port of Los Angeles deals primarily with imports – the trade balance is 76% imports and 24% exports – San Francisco International is more balanced. It is 58% imports and 42% exports, slightly better than the national average.

The most valuable import is gasoline and other refined petroleum products, at 10%. Refrigerators and freezers made up 5.9% of the total through November, while motor vehicle parts made up 4.9% and electric batteries 4.5%.

On the export side, frozen beef accounted for 12% of the total and fresh or chilled beef another 7.7%.

Import trade with SFO, meanwhile, is dominated by computer parts, at 75% of value, with digital storage devices and computer chips accounting for the total above 90%.

On the export side, 70% of the value through November was semiconductor machinery and parts.


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