SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s exports are expected to expand 18.1 percent on-year in 2021 to set a fresh record high on the back of global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a think tank said Thursday.

Outbound shipments for the year are estimated at $605.3 billion, rising sharply from the previous estimate of a 10 percent gain in October last year, according to a report by Hyundai Research Institute released by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

The amount would beat the previous record of $604.9 billion posted in 2018.

But the escalating tensions between the United States and China over trade issues may lead to more protectionism, thus hindering exports of Asia’s No. 4 economy as well, according to the research institute.

The global economy may also face bubbles as it gradually recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it added.

South Korea’s exports advanced 16.6 percent in March from a year earlier on the back of solid demand for chips and autos to extend their gains for the fifth consecutive month.

During the first quarter, the country’s exports advanced 12.7 percent to reach $146.7 billion, marking the highest amount for any January-March period.

In 2020, the country’s outbound shipments came to $512.8 billion, down 5.4 percent from 2019 amid the pandemic.