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SEOUL: South Korea’s exports in December fell from a year earlier for the third consecutive month, data showed on Sunday, with the outlook clouded by a Chinese economy fighting a surge in COVID-19 cases at a time of slowing global growth.

South Korea is the first major exporting economy to release trade data each month, providing an early glimpse into the state of global demand.

The trade ministry data showed exports fell in December by 9.5% from a year earlier, as sharp declines in shipments to China and Southeast Asia more than offset modest growth in sales to the United States and the European Union.

The decline was slightly less than a median 10.1% drop forecast in a Reuters poll and a 14.0% slide in November, but marked a third straight month of falls - the longest such spell since late 2020.

President Yoon Suk-yeol said in his New Year’s address that his government would make boosting exports a top policy priority in 2023, saying exports are the basis and source of jobs for the trade-reliant economy.

“We must get over the complex crisis through exports,” Yoon said during the televised address, pointing to a global economy faced with a mix of many, diverse sources of instability ranging from supply, demand and political factors.

The trade ministry has said it would provide strong policy support to exporters to avoid a decline in exports in 2023, which the government officially projects will fall 4.5% due to the global economic slowdown.

Exports for the full year of 2022 rose 6.1% to $683.9 billion, but imports grew 18.9% to $731.2 billion, resulting in a record trade deficit of $47.2 billion.

South Korea Dec exports to fall for third month as China demand still weak

Official data from China on Saturday showed that factory activity shrank in December at the sharpest pace since the pandemic emerged three years ago following a decision to drop its strict zero-COVID policy that set off a wave of infections.

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