South Korean vendors eager to see return of Chinese tourists
Chinese tourists stand next to street vendors at Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul, South Korea, January 9, 2023. Reuters

South Korea's government on Thursday promised to boost exports and attract tourists as the country's statistics agency released January data that showed gloomy prospects for the economy.

Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho said at a meeting of officials the likelihood of a quick export recovery was limited but that government ministries would do their best to avert a decline in shipments to other markets.

He also said the government would work to attract more foreign tourists, with arrivals so far this year at about 40% of pre-COVID levels.

Reflecting the sense of urgency within the government, South Korea's trade minister convened a separate emergency meeting of officials from almost all ministries to press for more exports.

A statement quoted Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang as urging participants to "find realistic ways and put every ounce of energy" to increase exports.

South Korea's official forecast is for exports to drop 4.5% in 2023 compared with last year. Exports for January and February have already posted a 12% decline over a year earlier.

Statistics Korea data showed on Thursday that Asia's fourth-largest economy could be headed for a recession with the cyclically adjusted coincident index - calculated from several current economic indicators - falling in January for a fourth consecutive month.

Industrial output rose in January from the previous month but plunged on the year, while retail sales decreased for a third consecutive month, the data showed.

South Korea's trade-reliant economy contracted by an estimated 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2022 from the previous quarter as exports collapsed.

An employee holds a recycled copper plate at an urban mining plant in Gunsan
An employee holds a recycled copper plate at an urban mining plant in Gunsan, South Korea, April 2, 2018. Reuters