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(4th LD) S. Korea vows improved supports for exporters as overseas shipments falter
SEOUL, May 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will provide more financing supports for local exporters losing ground in overseas markets in the face of a weak Japanese yen as the country's overseas shipments show no signs of a meaningful recovery, the trade ministry said Wednesday.

   The country chalked up a trade surplus of US$2.58 billion last month, compared with a surplus of $3.36 billion a month earlier, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. Exports gained 0.4 percent on-year to $46.29 billion last month, while imports inched down 0.5 percent to $43.71 billion over the cited period, it said.

   March marked the 15th consecutive month the country's trade balance stayed in the black, as exports grew for the second consecutive month on the back of a mild recovery in the global economy, according to the ministry.

   In the first four months of the year, exports edged up 0.5 percent on-year to reach $181.8 billion, with imports gaining 0.5 percent on-year to $173.4 billion over the cited period.

   Consequently, South Korea logged a trade surplus of $8.4 billion in the January-April period, the ministry said.

   But officials worried that the yen's weakening trend is likely to persist for a long time, and its negative impacts on South Korea's exports will become visible down the road.

   According to the ministry, exports per working day contracted 7.9 percent in April, reversing from an expansion seen in the first three months of the year.

   The weaker yen makes Japan-made goods less expensive, putting South Korean exporters at a disadvantage in overseas markets.

   The ministry noted the country's export growth is nearly stalled, affected by a weak yen, although the global economy is on a mild recovery path.

   Against this backdrop, the government will increase trade financing earmarked for the year by 11.1 trillion won to 82.1 trillion won. The loans will be provided by state-run financial institutions such as the Export-Import Bank of Korea and Korea Finance Corp., according to the ministry.

   "We will closely monitor external uncertainties, including a weaker yen, and redouble efforts to achieve this year's export target," the ministry said. It said earlier it expects exports to grow 4.1 percent this year.
The yen has been under heavy downward pressure to the dollar on the back of Japan's "Abenomics" -- a mixture of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies preached by its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

   The Korean won appreciated 4.7 percent per yen in the first quarter, compared with the end of 2012.

   "The data show exports to the U.S. grew last month, but shipments to Japan are trending lower," said an official at the ministry. "Exports of automobiles, steel products and machinery declined last year, whose overseas demand is dwindling probably because of a weak yen."

   The country saw an increase in shipments to emerging markets such as Asian markets and China.

   Shipments to the 10-member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations jumped 15.3 percent on-year last month with those to China also growing 16.3 percent. Exports to the United States and the European Union also gained 2.1 percent and 4.9 percent on-year, respectively, last month, it said.

   Exports to Japan dropped 11.1 percent on-year last month, however, marking the third consecutive month of decline, the ministry said.

   South Korea lowered its 2013 growth estimate to 2.3 percent from 3 percent, citing tough economic conditions at home and abroad. The Bank of Korea, the country's central bank, also cut its growth estimate to 2.6 percent from its earlier estimate of 2.8 percent due to the yen's weakness and the global slowdown.