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 their trade rights are infringed upon.
High-tech industries in the 1990s and 2000s
A Hyundai automobile. The automotive line is a key sector in South Korea's industry.
In 1990, South Korean manufacturers planned a significant shift in future production plans toward high-technology industries. In June 1989, panels of government officials, scholars, and business leaders held planning sessions on the production of such goods as new materials, mechatronics—including industrial robotics—bioengineering, microelectronics, fine chemistry, and aerospace. This shift in emphasis, however, did not mean an immediate decline in heavy industries such as automobile and ship production, which had dominated the economy in the 1980s.
South Korea relies largely upon exports to fuel the growth of its economy, with finished products such as electronics, textiles, ships, automobiles, and steel being some of its most important exports. Although the import market has liberalized in recent years, the agricultural market has remained largely protectionist due to serious disparities in the price of domestic agricultural products such as rice with the international market. As of 2005, the price of rice in South Korea is about four times that of the average price of rice on the international market, and it was generally feared that opening the agricultural market would have disastrous effects upon the South Korean agricultural sector. In late 2004, however, an agreement was reached with the WTO in which South Korean rice imports will gradually increase from 4% to 8% of consumption by 2014. In addition, up to 30% of imported rice will be made available directly to consumers by 2010, where previously imported rice was only used for processed foods. Following 2014, the South Korean rice market will be fully opened.
Korea Export Treemap
China and Korea dominate shipbuilding today. China leads in tonnage built, while Korea leads in sales as it concentrates on higher value ships. During the 1970s and 1980s, South Korea became a leading producer of ships, including oil supertankers, and oil-drilling platforms. The country's major shipbuilder was Hyundai, which built a 1-million-ton capacity drydock at Ulsan in the mid-1970s. Daewoo joined the shipbuilding industry in 1980 and finished a 1.2-million-ton facility at Okpo on Geoje Island, south of Busan, in mid-1981. The industry declined in the mid-1980s because of the oil glut and because of a worldwide recession. There was a sharp decrease in new orders in the late 1980s; new orders for 1988 totaled 3 million gross tons valued at US$1.9 billion, decreases from the previous year of 17.8 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively. These declines were caused by labor unrest, Seoul's unwillingness to provide financial assistance, and Tokyo's new low-interest export financing in support of Japanese shipbuilders. However, the South Korean shipping industry was expected to expand in the early 1990s because older ships in world fleets needed replacing. South Korea eventually became the world's dominant shipbuilder with a 50.6% share of the global shipbuilding market as of 2008. Notable Korean shipbuilders are Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, and STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, the world's four largest shipbuilding companies. STX Offshore & Shipbuilding also owns STX Europe, which is Europe's largest shipbuilder.
The automobile industry was one of South Korea's major growth and export industries in the 1980s. By the late 1980s, the capacity of the South Korean motor industry had increased more than fivefold since 1984; it exceeded 1 million units in 1988. Total investment in car and car-component manufacturing was over US$3 billion in 1989. Total production (including buses and trucks) for 1988 totaled 1.1 million units, a 10.6 percent increase over 1987, and grew to an estimated 1.3 million vehicles (predominantly passenger cars) in 1989. Almost 263,000 passenger cars were produced in 1985—a figure that grew to approximately 846,000 units in 1989. In 1988 automobile exports totaled 576,134 units, of which 480,119 units (83.3 percent) were sent to the United States. Throughout most of the late 1980s, much of the growth of South Korea's automobile industry was the result of a surge in exports; 1989 exports, however, declined 28.5 percent from 1988. This decline reflected sluggish car sales to the United States, especially at the less expensive end of the market, and labor strife at home. South Korea today has developed into one of the world's largest automobile producers. Hyundai Kia Automotive Group is Korea's largest automaker.
Most of the mineral deposits in the Korean Peninsula are located in North Korea, with the South only possessing an abundance of tungsten and graphite. Coal, iron ore, and molybdenum are found in South Korea, but not in large quantities and mining operations are on a small scale. Much of South Korea's minerals and ore are imported from other countries. Most South Korean coal is low-grade anthracite that is only used for heating homes and boilers.
Construction has been an important South Korean export industry since the early 1960s and remains a critical source of foreign currency and invisible export earnings. By 1981 overseas construction projects, most of them in the Middle East, accounted for 60 percent of the work undertaken by South Korean construction companies. Contracts that year were valued at US$13.7 billion. In 1988, however, overseas construction contracts totaled only US$2.6 billion (orders from the Middle East were US$1.2 billion), a 1 percent increase over the previous year, while new orders for domestic construction projects totaled US$13.8 billion, an 8.8 percent increase over 1987.
Breakwater Construction in Seosan coast (1984)
The result was that South Korean construction companies concentrated on the rapidly growing domestic market in the late 1980s. By 1989 there were signs of a revival of the overseas construction market—the Dong Ah Construction Company signed a US$5.3 billion contract with Libya for the second phase of Libya's Great Man-Made River Project, which, when all five phases were completed, was projected to cost US$27 billion. South Korean construction companies signed over US$7 billion of overseas contracts in 1989. Korea's largest construction companies include Samsung C&T Corporation, who had built noteworthy constructs such as Petronas Towers, Taipei 101, and Burj Khalifa.
Korea's remarkable technological advancements and industrialization allowed Korea to produce increasingly powerful military equipment.
Situated in the most heavily militarized region of the world, South Korea is an important manufacturer of armaments, both for domestic use and for export. During the 1960s, South Korea was largely dependent on the United States to supply its armed forces, but after the elaboration of President Richard M. Nixon's policy of Vietnamization in the early 1970s, South Korea began to manufacture many of its own weapons.
Since the 1980s, South Korea, now in possession of more modern military technology than in previous generations, has actively began shifting its defense industry's areas of interest more from its previously homeland defense-oriented militarization efforts, to the promotion of military equipment and technology as mainstream products of exportation to boost its international trade. Some of its key military export projects include T-155 Firtina self-propelled artillery for Turkey; K11 air-burst rifle for United Arab Emirates; Bangabandhu class guided-missile frigate for Bangladesh; fleet tankers such as Sirius class for the navies of Australia, New Zealand, and Venezuela; Makassar class amphibious assault ships for Indonesia; and KT-1 trainer for Turkey, Indonesia and Peru
South Korea has also outsourced its defense industry to produce various core components of other countries' advanced military hardware. Those hardware include modern aircraft such as F-15K fighters and AH-64 attack helicopters which will be used by Singapore and Japan, whose airframes will be built by Korea Aerospace Industries in a joint-production deal with Boeing. In other major oursourcing and joint-production deals, South Korea has jointly produced the S-300 air defense system of Russia via Samsung Group, and will facilitate the sales of Mistral class amphibious assault ships to Russia that will be produced by STX Corporation. South Korea's defense exports were $1.03 billion in 2008 and $1.17 billion in 2009, and South Korea aims to increase the figure to $1.5 billion in 2010.
Main article: Tourism in South Korea
In 2007, South Korea had 6.4 million visitors making it the 36th most visited country in the world. Recently, the number of tourists from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia has grown dramatically due to the increased popularity of the Korean wave ("hallyu").
Seoul is the principal tourist destination for visitors; popular tourist destinations outside of Seoul include Seorak-san national park, the historic city of Gyeongju and semi-tropical Jeju Island.