© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A truck drives between shipping containers at a container terminal at Incheon port in Incheon, South Korea, May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

By Jihoon Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s export downturn slowed in June, with auto exports extending robust rises and semiconductors narrowing their decline, as the bellwether Asian economy posted its first trade surplus since early last year.

Shipments from Asia’s fourth-largest economy, offering one of the earliest snapshots of monthly global trade, fell 6.0% in June from a year earlier to $54.24 billion in June, narrowing from a 15.2% drop in May, trade ministry data showed on Saturday.

The ministry said the improvement in the trade balance may pause in July and August due to seasonal factors but was expected to get back on track and exports swing back to growth.

The export drop was deeper than the 3.0% forecast in a Reuters survey but still the second smallest in a downturn that began in October.

Exports of semiconductors fell 28.0%, the smallest decline in eight months. Automobile exports rose 58.3%, extending gains to a 12th month, while ship exports jumped 98.6%.

Shipments to China fell 19.0%, the smallest decline since October, while those to the United States fell 1.9% in their third month of decline. Exports to the European Union rose 9.2%.

Imports fell 11.7% to $53.11 billion, narrowing from a 14.0% fall the previous month and but slightly steeper than the 11.0% decline expected by economists.

As a result, the country posted a trade surplus of $1.13 billion in June after 15 months of deficits for the export-reliant economy.

(This story has been corrected to say the decline was larger than expected, not smaller, in paragraph 7)


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