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South Korea: Partners and Opportunities for Delaware Small Businesses

South Korea: Partners and Opportunities for Delaware Small Businesses

South Korea is a favorable market for Delaware exporters because of its location, growth industries, ease of doing business, and our local partner Ken Yang of Korea Business Services, INC (KBSI). In 2020, Delaware exported $284 Million in products and services to South Korea, primarily pharmaceutical products and manufacturing-related goods. Top export sectors in South Korea include defense, energy (including renewable energy), information and communication technology, aerospace, air pollution control, specialty chemicals, cosmetics, entertainment and media, education services, manufacturing technology, and smart factory and agriculture.


Quick Facts (source USTR)

  • $56.5 Billion in total US exports in 2019
  • 97.6% growth in US exports in the past ten years
  • 7th largest export market of the United States
  • Korea is an export-dependent industrialized nation, with exports valued at 40% of GDP



South Korea is within equal distance of Tokyo and Beijing, putting the nation in the center of northeast Asia. It has robust shipping and air cargo infrastructure, which equips the nation as a hub for expansion into other markets. Savvy US exporters have partnered with local Korean companies to gain access to third-country markets, including ASEAN, the Middle East, and other Indo-Pacific markets. (Source: US ITA)


Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Sector

South Korea is focusing investments into advanced manufacturing and plans to support 1000 smart factories that have the combined with 5G and AI capabilities by 2025. In addition, the government plans to spend $15 billion to expand by 2023 to expand the robot industry.

The smart factory market in South Korea is expected to reach $12.76 billion by 2022, which is the second-fastest growth in Asia after China.

Read the full Advanced Manufacturing report from KBSI here.


Biohealth Sector

Biohealth is a significant growth industry in South Korea. It has been growing by 4% (compound annual growth rate) for a decade. In 2019, the sector reached $39.7 Billion. The biohealth market includes pharmaceuticals ($24.2 Billion), medical devices ($7.8 Billion), and biotechnology ($7.6 Billion). Of the $1.9 Billion imports to South Korea in 2019, 83.7% were biopharmaceutical products ($1.6 Billion).

The biohealth sector in South Korea includes five promising sub-sectors:

  • Therapeutic antibodies and Cytokines: $670 M (34.1%)
  • Vaccines: $300 M (15.3%)
  • Hormones: $296 M (15.1%)
  • Hemo-therapeutics: $268 M (13.7%)
  • Other Biopharmaceuticals: $90 M (4.6%)


Korea's Total Imports and Promising sub-sectors


Key players of the biohealth market in South Korea include Celltrion, SK Biopharmaceuticals, Hanmi Pharm, Yuhan, Daewoong Pharmaceutical, GC Pharma, Samsung Bioepis, Chong Kun Dang, Dong-A ST, IllDong Pharmaceutical.

Read the full Biohealth report from KBSI here.


Information and Communication Technology (ITC) Sector

Geographical distribution of value added in ICT manufacturing

South Korea is ranked number 1 on Bloomger’s Index of Most Innovative Nations in 2021. With some of the world’s top ICT companies such as Samsung and LG, the nation has a reputation as a leading manufacturer of ICT products. They are the third-largest distributor of ICT products after China and the US. South Korea is actively investing in new innovations such as AI, 5G, big data, and robotics. There is potential for Delaware small businesses to collaborate in these specialty technologies.

Read the full ICT report from KBSI here.


Medical Device Sector

Medical Device Sector market size in the world

Korea’s medical device industry is ranked 9th in the world. The sector has gained a global reputation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Korean-made medical devices are known for their speedy and reliable functionality. 

The Korean government plans to invest just under $1 billion to support R&D in this important sector, specifically to adopt new technologies such as ICT and AI into medical devices. 

Read the full Medical Device report from KBSI here.


Photonics and Optical Sectors

The photonics and optical sectors have grown to $675 million in the last 12 years in South Korea. Products such as optical devices, lasers, cameras, lenses, and films are dependent on imports. Delaware small businesses may find areas of collaboration in optical ICT, lighting, medical and bio, precision laser-based instrumentation/sensing, material elements, video and information technology, optical equipment, and high efficient energy.

Read the full Photonics and Optical Sector report from KBSI here.


Doing Business in South Korea

The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was modified in March 2018, reducing or removing nearly 92% of tariffs, making Korea even more attractive for US companies.

The US International Trade Authority says that US-based companies who wish to do business with South Korea must be “innovative, patient, and committed to entering the Korean market. [With this approach] they will find business to be rewarding and Koreans to be eager and loyal customers.”

In Korean business culture, signing an agreement or MOU is the start of the business relationship. It is ceremonial and the first step of many when it comes to making a deal. It is important to understand Korea’s local business customs, so your company can nurture leads there and create long-term relationships. To learn more about South Korea and the business culture, check out this presentation from KBSI.


Delaware’s Office in South Korea

The State has a long-standing business partner in South Korea to help Delaware exporters: Ken Yang, President of KBSI. As a market and business development service firm based in Seoul, South Korea, KBSI assists Delaware small businesses in promoting their products and services to Korea and abroad by providing trade and economic development, market research, financial and investment advisory, public relations and communications, social media marketing, trade show, and trade mission organization, and education services.

Ken Yang is a trade expert with extensive knowledge in business development, market research, marketing, and investment advisory services for private and public businesses. He graduated with an MBA in International Business from Sogang Graduate School of Business Administration, Korea, and has over two decades of experience in economic development and investment, international marketing, and public relations and communications.

Your Delaware small business can partner with KBSI on what we call a “Customized Virtual Trade Mission,” where you work one-on-one with Ken Yang to identify and meet target clients in South Korea. To learn more about partnering with Ken, or opportunities for your business in South Korea, please contact us at


Additional Resources:

South Korea Country Commercial Guide
Fashio-nte Korea
Korea’s Bio-Health Industry
Growth in South Korea Market: Insight from a regional expert
South Korea: Living the New Normal (COVID-19 Update)

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