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Basic Information

In the short period from 1970 to 1990, export-led industrialization transformed South Korea from one of the world's poorest economies to the 11th largest. It became a member of the so-called developed countries club, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 1996. In the course of economic development, the importance of agriculture declined. Its contribution to Gross Domestic Product dropped from 40 percent in the early 1960s to less than 5 percent in the early 2000s, while agricultural employment declined from more than 50 percent to less than 10 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 loan granted by the International Money Fund to help overcome the crisis was accompanied by strict conditions for reform. The economy rebounded sharply and has grown since, with a pause in the global recession of 2009.

Agriculture, in contrast to the rest of the economy, has little export focus and exists with heavy protection from the government. South Korea strives to be self-sufficient in rice, horticultural products, and livestock production. Densely populated and increasingly wealthy, South Korea does not have 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

See all data 2000-2012 16x16 - Excel

Calendar year

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Population (million persons)

48.1
48.4
48.6
48.9
49.2
49.4
49.8
50.0

Share of total population on farms (percent)

7.1
6.8
6.8
6.6
6.4
6.02
6.0
5.8

Gross domestic product (billion US$)

845
951
1,049
931
834
1,015
1,115
1,130

In trillion won

865
909
975
1,026
1,065
1,173
1,235
1,272

Growth rate, at 2000 prices (percent)

4.0
5.2
5.1
2.3
0.3
6.3
3.6
2.0

Per person (gross national income, US$)

17,531
19,691
21,632
19,161
17,041
20,562
22,451
22,708

Exchange rate, won/US$

1,024
956
929
1,102
1,277
1,156
1,108
1,126

Land area

Total (million hectares)

9.965
9.968
9.972
9.982
9.990
10.002
10.015 NA

Area of cultivated land (million hectares)

1.824
1.800
1.782
1.759
1.737
1,715
1.698
NA

Average cultivated area per farm household (hectares)

1.43
1.45
1.45
1.45
1.45
1.46
1.46
NA

Principal crops (1,000 mt)

Rice, milled

4,768
4,680
4,408
4,843
4,916
4,295
4,224
4,006

Barley, unhulled

272
208
230
241
211
116
109
NA

Corn

73
65
84
93
77
74
74
84

Soybeans

183
156
114
132
139
105
129
123

Potatoes, white and sweet

1,177
917
927
934
942
916
878
NA

Fruits

2,593
2,504
2,750
2,698
2,881
2,489
2,458
NA

Vegetables

9,097
9,445
8,828
9,343
9,353
7,894
9,121
NA

Livestock production (1,000 mt)

Beef, carcass weight

195
200
219
246
267
247
280
312

Pork, carcass weight

1,036
1,000
1,043
1,056
1,062
1,110
837
1,086

Broiler meat

451
523
570
565
613
653
685
726

Milk

2,229
2,176
2,188
2,139
2,110
2,073
1,888
1,915

Eggs

515
537
544
542
579
578
573
NA

Agricultural exports (million US$)

1,779
1,787
1,972
2,268
2,430
3,075
3,902
4,026

Refined sugar; confectionery products

200
235
239
252
257
390
473
453

Ramen noodles

136
103
116
130
142
157
187
206

Coffee products

58
68
92
115
133
146
226
205

Pork and offals and preps.

34
24
26
18
12
1
2
3

Agricultural imports (million US$)

11,079
12,342
14,822
18,903
15,013
18,678
25,573
24,760

Corn

1,213
1,265
1,826
2,820
1,638
1,990
2,498
2,603

Beef

670
792
939
960
797
1,080
1,522
1,260

Hides/skins

408
364
381
369
268
386
446
458

Wheat

666
656
828
1,274
949
1,067
1,647
1,773

Cotton

355
299
305
342
292
406
855
688

Soybeans

391
321
415
792
592
574
676
732

Pork

591
741
863
823
672
664
1,438
1,131

Rubber, natural

509
734
789
1,003
600
1,195
1,929
1,373
NA = Not available.
Sources: Economic Research Service; Korea Customs Data; Korea National Statistical Office; Bank of Korea; Korea Rural Economic Institute; National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, Korea; Pacific exchange rate service; Production, Supply, and Demand database, USDA;Statistical Yearbook of Agriculture and Forestry, Republic of Korea.

Map

Map of South Korea

Last updated: Thursday, June 27, 2013

For more information contact: John Dyck

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