South korean economy real gross domestic product expanded by an average of more than 8 percent per year, from US$2.7 billion in 1962 to US$230 billion in 1989, breaking the trillion dollar mark in 2007. Nominal GDP per capita grew from $103.88 in 1962 to $5,438.24 in 1989, reaching the $20,000 milestone in 2007. The manufacturing sector grew from 14.3 percent of the GNP in 1962 to 30.3 percent in 1987. Commodity trade volume rose from US$480 million in 1962 to a projected US$127.9 billion in 1990. The ratio of domestic savings to GNP grew from 3.3 percent in 1962 to 35.8 percent in 1989.
The most significant factor in rapid industrialization was the adoption of an outward-looking strategy in the early 1960s. This strategy was particularly well suited to that time because of South Korea’s poor natural resource endowment, low savings rate, and tiny domestic market. The strategy promoted economic growth through labor-intensive manufactured exports, in which South Korea could develop a competitive advantage. Government initiatives played an important role in this process. The inflow of foreign capital was greatly encouraged to supplement the shortage of domestic savings. These efforts enabled South Korea to achieve rapid growth in exports and subsequent increases in income.
By emphasizing the industrial sector, Seoul’s export-oriented development strategy left the rural sector relatively underdeveloped. Except for mining, most industries were located in the urban areas of the northwest and southeast. Heavy industries generally were located in the south of the country. Factories in Seoul contributed over 25 percent of all manufacturing value-added in 1978; taken together with factories in surrounding Gyeonggi Province, factories in the Seoul area produced 46 percent of all manufacturing that year. Factories in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province employed 48 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million factory workers. Increasing income disparity between the industrial and agricultural sectors became a serious problem by the 1970s and remained a problem, despite government efforts to raise farm income and improve rural living standards.
In the early 1980s, in order to control inflation, a conservative monetary policy and tight fiscal measures were adopted. Growth of the money supply was reduced from the 30 percent level of the 1970s to 15 percent. Seoul even froze its budget for a short while. Government intervention in the economy was greatly reduced and policies on imports and foreign investment were liberalized to promote competition. To reduce the imbalance between rural and urban sectors, Seoul expanded investments in public projects, such as roads and communications facilities, while further promoting farm mechanization.
The measures implemented early in the decade, coupled with significant improvements in the world economy, helped the South Korean economy regain its lost momentum in the late 1980s. South Korea achieved an average of 9.2 percent real growth between 1982 and 1987 and 12.5 percent between 1986 and 1988. The double digit inflation of the 1970s was brought under control. Wholesale price inflation averaged 2.1 percent per year from 1980 through 1988; consumer prices increased by an average of 4.7 percent annually. Seoul achieved its first significant surplus in its balance of payments in 1986 and recorded a US$7.7 billion and a US$11.4 billion surplus in 1987 and 1988 respectively. This development permitted South Korea to begin reducing its level of foreign debt. The trade surplus for 1989, however, was only US$4.6 billion, and a small negative balance was projected for 1990
Korea’s economy moved away from the centrally planned, government-directed investment model toward a more market-oriented one. These economic reforms, pushed by President Kim Dae-jung, helped Korea maintain one of Asia’s few expanding economies, with growth rates of 10.8% in 1999 and 9.2% 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 have stalled.
After the bounce back from the crisis of the late nineties, the economy continued strong growth in 2000 with a GDP growth of 9.08%. But the South Korean economy was affected by the September 11 Attacks, causing growth to fall back to 3.8% in 2001 also because of the slowing global economy, falling exports, and the perception that corporate and financial reforms had stalled Thanks to industrialization GDP per hour worked (labor output) more than tripled from US$2.80 in 1963 to US$10.00 in 1989. More recently the economy stabilized and maintain a growth rate between 4-5% from 2003 onwards.
Led by industry and construction, growth in 2002 was 5.8%, despite anemic global growth. The restructuring of Korean conglomerates (chaebols), bank privatization, and the creation of a more liberalized economy—with a mechanism for bankrupt firms to exit the market—remain Korea’s most important unfinished reform tasks. Growth slowed again in 2004, but production expanded 5% in 2006, due to popular demand for key export products such as HDTVs and mobile phones.
Like most industrialized economies, Korea suffered significant setbacks during the late-2000s recession that began in 2007. Growth fell by 3.4% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the previous quarter, the first negative quarterly growth in 10 years, with year on year quarterly growth continuing to be negative into 2009. Most sectors of the economy reported declines, with manufacturing dropping 25.6% as of January 2009, and consumer goods sales dropping 3.1%. Exports in autos and semiconductors, two critical pillars of the economy, shrank 55.9% and 46.9% respectively, while exports overall fell by a record 33.8% in January, and 18.3% in February 2009 year on year. As in the 1997 crisis, Korea’s currency also experienced massive fluctuations, declining by 34% against the dollar. Annual growth in the economy slowed to 2.3% in 2008, and was expected to drop to as low as -4.5% by Goldman Sachs, but South Korea was able to limit the downturn to a near standstill at 0.2% in 2009.
Despite the global financial crisis, the South Korean economy, helped by timely stimulus measures and strong domestic consumption of products that compensated for a drop in exports, was able to avoid a recession unlike most industrialized economies, posting positive economic growth for two consecutive years of the crisis. In 2010, South Korea made a strong economic rebound with a growth rate of 6.1%, signaling a return of the economy to pre-crisis levels. South Korea’s export has recorded $424 billion in the first eleven months of the year 2010, already higher than its export in the whole year of 2008. The South Korean economy of the 21st century, as a Next Eleven economy, is expected to grow from 3.9% to 4.2% annually between 2011 and 2030, similar to growth rates of developing countries such as Brazil or Russia.
The South Korean government signed the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) on December 5, 2013, with the Australian government seeking to benefit its numerous industries—including automotive, services, and resources and energy—and position itself alongside competitors, such as the US and ASEAN. South Korea is Australia’s third largest export market and fourth largest trading partner with a 2012 trade value of A$32 billion. The agreement contains an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause that permits legal action from South Korean corporations against the Australian government if their trade rights are infringed upon