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Basic Information

From 1970 to 1990, export-led industrialization transformed South Korea from one of the world's poorest economies to the 11th largest. In 1996, South Korea became a member of the so-called developed countries club, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In the course of economic development, the importance of agriculture in the South Korean economy declined. Agriculture’s contribution to gross domestic product in the country dropped from 40 percent in the early 1960s to about 2 percent in recent years, while agricultural employment declined from more than 50 percent to about 6 percent of the labor force. The momentum of South Korea's strong economic growth was dramatically interrupted in December 1997, when a financial crisis pushed the economy to the brink of default. A record $57 billion International Money Fund loan to help overcome the crisis came with strict conditions for reform. The economy rebounded sharply and has grown since, with a pause in the global recession of 2009 (see chart).

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Slowing population growth and an aging population present a growing challenge to the Korean economy. The number of persons aged 20-24 is expected to peak in 2015, and the total population to peak in 2023. For much of the coming decades, South Korea’s labor force and consumer base will be declining, and the average age will be increasing. Food consumption, in total caloric terms, is unlikely to grow in the future, although some food categories may grow at the expense of others. 

Agriculture, in contrast to much of the rest of the economy, has little export focus and receives heavy protection from the Government. South Korea strives to be self-sufficient in rice, horticultural products, and livestock production. There is not enough cropland and pasture to support both direct human food use and animal feeding. Since the 1960s, South Korea has been a large net importer of agricultural products: raw materials (cotton, hides) to support the manufacture of clothing and shoes for export, wheat for food use, and feedstuffs (corn, soybeans) for livestock production.

Trade liberalization in the 1990s opened a large, growing trade in value-added and high-value commodities, including meats, fruits and vegetables, processed foods, and beverages. South Korea is likely to import greater amounts of agricultural products in the future because of domestic market forces and market-access measures negotiated in bilateral and multilateral agreements. New free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States in 2011 and 2012 included lower bilateral tariffs on South Korea’s agricultural imports.

Key Statistics

Key statistics  
Calendar year
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Population (million persons): 48.4 48.6 48.9 49.2 49.4 49.8 50.0 50.2
Share of total population on farms (percent) 6.8 6.8 6.6 6.4 6.2 6.0 5.8 5.7
Gross domestic product (billion US$) 1011 1,123 1002 902 1,095 1,203 1,223 1,305
Per person (gross national income, US$) 20,823 23,033 20,463 18,303 22,170 24,302 24,696 26,205
Gross domestic product (trillion won) 966 1043 1,104 1,152 1,265 1,333 1,377 1,428
Growth rate, at 2000 prices (percent) 5.2 5.1 2.3 0.3 6.3 3.6 2.0 2.8
Exchange rate, won/US$ 956 929 1,102 1,277 1,156 1,108 1,126 1,095
Land area   
Total (million hectares) 9.968 9.972 9.982 9.990 10.002 10.015 10.019 NA
Area of cultivated land (million hectares) 1.800 1.782 1.759 1.737 1.715 1.698 1.730 NA
Average cultivated area per farm household (hectares) 1.45 1.45 1.45 1.45 1.46 1.46 1.50 NA
Principal crops (1,000 mt)  
Rice, milled 4,680 4,408 4,843 4,916 4,295 4,224 4,006 4,230
Barley, unhulled 208 230 241 211 116 109 85 NA
Corn   65 84 93 77 74 74 83 78
Soybeans 156 114 132 139 105 129 123 154
Potatoes, white and sweet 917 927 934 942 916 878 950 NA
Fruits  2,504 2,750 2,698 2,881 2,489 2,458 2,374 NA
Vegetables 9,445 8,828 9,343 9,353 7,894 9,121 7,940 NA
Livestock production (1,000 mt)  
Beef, carcass weight 200 219 246 267 247 280 312 344
Pork, carcass weight 1,000 1,043 1,056 1,062 1,110 837 1,086 1,252
Broiler meat 523 570 565 613 653 685 696 690
Milk  2,176 2,188 2,139 2,110 2,073 1,888 2,111 2,196
Eggs  537 544 542 579 578 573 605 NA
Agricultural exports (million US$) 1,787 1,972 2,268 2,430 3,075 3,902 4,026 4,236
Refined sugar; confectionery products 235 239 252 257 390 473 453 423
Ramen noodles 103 116 130 142 157 187 206 212.529
Coffee roducts 68 92 115 133 146 226 205 221
Pork and offals and preps. 24 26 18 12 1 2 3 5
Agricultural imports (million US$) 12,342 14,822 18,903 15,013 18,678 25,573 24,760 24,992
Corn   1,265 1,826 2,820 1,638 1,990 2,498 2,603 2,677
Beef  792 939 960 797 1,080 1,522 1,260 1,396
Hides/skins 364 381 369 268 386 446 458 449
Wheat  656 828 1,274 949 1,067 1,647 1,773 1,616
Cotton  299 305 342 292 406 855 688 609
Soybeans  321 415 792 592 574 676 732 738
Pork  741 863 823 672 664 1,438 1,131 822
Rubber, natural 734 789 1,003 600 1,195 1,929 1,373 1,109

For Key statistics on South Korea's economy, agriculture sector and trade, See all data 2000-2013 16x16 - Excel

Map

Map of South Korea

Last updated: Monday, March 16, 2015

For more information contact: John Dyck

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