The number of leading Korean exports has declined, raising serious concerns for the competitiveness of key products sold overseas.
According to the Institute for International Trade, the number of Korean exports that led the global market dwindled from 71 in 2010 to 61 in 2011. The number peaked at 73 in 2009.
In contrast, China's leading exports grew from 1,353 to 1,431 over the same period to put it at the top, followed by Germany (777), the U.S. (589), Italy (230) and Japan (229).) Korea ranked 15th although it is the world's seventh-largest exporter, meaning it depends on a relatively small number of products.
The data is based on the UN HS code system of classification, which breaks them down into 5,051 categories.
Advanced countries like the U.S. and Japan saw the number of leading exports drop, while newly emerging countries such as China and Indonesia posted growth.
In 2011, 26 of Korea's leading export products were overtaken by foreign rivals but it managed to maintain its lead for 45 products, including computer memory chips, tankers and washing machines.
The number of Korean exports that were ranked No. 2 in overseas markets also rose from 109 to 124, but China is in hot pursuit. Among the 26 items where Korea lost its dominance, 12 were beaten out by Chinese products.
Among the 61 leading Korean exports, Chinese rival products ranked No. 2 for 13 of them. "In most of the 16 exports where Korea newly dominates the global market, the gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 products is less than 10 percentage points," said an institute spokesman. "We need to bolster export competitiveness to fend off the competition."
The value of Korea's leading exports also dropped from US$125.6 billion in 2010 to $103.4 billion in 2011. The share of Korea’s total exports held by leading outbound shipments fell by 8 percent to 18.6 percent.
"Most of the world's top 10 exporters in terms of volume managed to remain in the top 10 in terms of leading export, but Korea and Russia ranked 15th and 21st even though they are the world’s seventh and ninth-largest exporters," said Kang Seok-ki at the institute.