SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) — Exports of South Korean bigger companies declined 7.3 percent last year from a year earlier amid the pandemic, led by a fall in shipments of petrochemicals, data showed Tuesday.

Overseas shipments by the country’s conglomerates were valued at US$322.5 billion last year, compared with $347.7 billion the previous year, according to Statistics Korea and the Korea Customs Service.

The decline was led by the manufacturing sector, the backbone of the country’s economy, the data showed. Exports of large petrochemical firms declined 23.2 percent on-year and those of transporting companies shed 10.8 percent.

Exports of mid-sized firms inched down 0.3 percent on-year to $93.3 billion and those of smaller companies fell 4.4 percent to $95.5 billon.

For all of 2020, the country’s exports fell 5.5 percent on-year to $512.5 billion.

The number of exporting companies came to 97,012 last year, down 0.4 percent from the previous year. It marked the first time that the number of exporters has fallen since 2010, when the statistics agency began compiling related data.

The number of importing firms rose 3.2 percent on-year to 198,890 in 2020.

South Korea’s exports, which account for half of the economy, were dented by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. But on a monthly basis, the pace of export slumps has eased since June last year as major economies resumed business activities following months of border lockdowns.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy is on a recovery track on the back of robust shipments of chips and autos.