From 1970 to 1990, export-led industrialization transformed South Korea from one of the world's poorest economies to the 11th largest. In 1996, South Korea became a member of the so-called developed countries club, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In the course of economic development, the importance of agriculture in the South Korean economy declined. Agriculture’s contribution to gross domestic product in the country dropped from 40 percent in the early 1960s to about 2 percent in recent years, while agricultural employment declined from more than 50 percent to about 6 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 International Money Fund loan to help overcome the crisis came with strict conditions for reform. The economy rebounded sharply and has grown since, with a pause in the global recession of 2009 (see chart).
Slowing population growth and an aging population present a growing challenge to the Korean economy. The number of persons aged 20-24 is expected to peak in 2015, and the total population to peak in 2023. For much of the coming decades, South Korea’s labor force and consumer base will be declining, and the average age will be increasing. Food consumption, in total caloric terms, is unlikely to grow in the future, although some food categories may grow at the expense of others.
Agriculture, in contrast to much of the rest of the economy, has little export focus and receives heavy protection from the Government. South Korea strives to be self-sufficient in rice, horticultural products, and livestock production. There is not 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.
|Population (million persons)||48.4||48.6||48.9||49.2||49.4||49.8||50.0||50.2|
|Share of total population on farms (percent)||6.8||6.8||6.6||6.4||6.2||6.0||5.8||5.7|
|Gross domestic product (billion US$)||1011||1,123||1002||902||1,095||1,203||1,223||1,305|
|Per person (gross national income, US$)||20,823||23,033||20,463||18,303||22,170||24,302||24,696||26,205|
|Gross domestic product (trillion won)||966||1043||1,104||1,152||1,265||1,333||1,377||1,428|
|Growth rate, at 2000 prices (percent)||5.2||5.1||2.3||0.3||6.3||3.6||2.0||2.8|
|Exchange rate, won/US$||956||929||1,102||1,277||1,156||1,108||1,126||1,095|
|Total (million hectares)||9.968||9.972||9.982||9.990||10.002||10.015||10.019||NA|
|Area of cultivated land (million hectares)||1.800||1.782||1.759||1.737||1.715||1.698||1.730||NA|
|Average cultivated area per farm household (hectares)||1.45||1.45||1.45||1.45||1.46||1.46||1.50||NA|
|Principal crops (1,000 mt)|
|Potatoes, white and sweet||917||927||934||942||916||878||950||NA|
|Livestock production (1,000 mt)|
|Beef, carcass weight||200||219||246||267||247||280||312||344|
|Pork, carcass weight||1,000||1,043||1,056||1,062||1,110||837||1,086||1,252|
|Agricultural exports (million US$)||1,787||1,972||2,268||2,430||3,075||3,902||4,026||4,236|
|Refined sugar; confectionery products||235||239||252||257||390||473||453||423|
|Pork and offals and preps.||24||26||18||12||1||2||3||5|
|Agricultural imports (million US$)||12,342||14,822||18,903||15,013||18,678||25,573||24,760||24,992|
For Key statistics on South Korea's economy, agriculture sector and trade, see all data 2000-2013.