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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: Wednesday, February 25, 2015

For more information contact: John Dyck

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