Key facts: South Korea

by World Grain Staff
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Capital: Seoul

Population: 49 million Religions: No affiliation 46%, Christian 26%, Buddhist 26%, Confucianist 1%, other 1%

Location: Southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea

Government: Republic; President Roh Moo-hyun (since Feb. 25, 2003)

Economy: Since the early 1960s, South Korea has achieved an incredible record of growth and integration into the hightech modern world economy. Four decades ago, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. In 2004, South Korea joined the "trillion-dollar club" of world economies. Today, its GDP per capita is equal to the lesser economies of the E.U. This success through the late 1980s was achieved by a system of close government/ business ties, including directed credit, import restrictions, sponsorship of specific industries and a strong labor effort. The government promoted the import of raw materials and technology at the expense of consumer goods and encouraged savings and investment over consumption. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-99 exposed longstanding weaknesses in South Korea’s development model, including high debt/equity ratios, massive foreign borrowing and an undisciplined financial sector. GDP plunged by 6.9% in 1998, then grew by 9.5% in 1999 and 8.5% in 2000. Growth fell back to 3.3% in 2001 because of the slowing global economy, falling exports and the perception that much-needed corporate and financial reforms had stalled. Led by consumer spending and exports, growth in 2002 was an impressive 7%, despite anemic global growth. Between 2003 and 2005, growth moderated to about 4%. A downturn in consumer spending was offset by rapid export growth. In 2005, the government proposed labor reform legislation and a corporate pension scheme to help make the labor market more flexible, and new real estate policies to cool property speculation. Moderate inflation, low unemployment, an export surplus, and fairly equal distribution of income characterize this solid economy.

GDP per capita: U.S.$22,600 ; Inflation 2.8%; unemployment 3.7% (2005 est.)

Currency: U.S.$1 = 941.8 Won (Jan. 10, 2007 rate)

Exports: U.S.$288 billion; semiconductors, wireless telecommunications equipment, motor vehicles, computers, steel, ships, petrochemicals (2005)

Imports: U.S.$256 billion; machinery, electronics and electronic equipment, oil, steel, transport equipment, organic chemicals, plastics

Major crops / agricultural products: rice, root crops, barley, vegetables, fruit; cattle, pigs, chickens, milk, eggs; fish Grain and oilseed crops: Rice and barley

Agriculture: 3.4% of GDP and 6.4% of the labor force

Internet: code .kr, 5,433,591 hosts and 33.9 million users (2005)

(Source: The World Fact Book)