SEOUL, April 21 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) saw their exports touch a fresh high in the first quarter on brisk overseas demand for medical products and chips, government data showed Wednesday.

SMEs’ overseas shipments totaled US$27 billion in the January-March period, up 12.1 percent from a year earlier, according to the data from the Ministry of SMEs and Startups.

It was the highest-ever amount for the first quarter and exceeded the previous first-quarter record of $25.2 billion in 2018.

The ministry said the solid first-quarter increase stemmed from a surge in exports of coronavirus test kits, semiconductor equipment and other key products.

Overseas shipments of 18 out of the top 20 export items expanded in the first quarter from a year ago, with exports of medical products rocketing nearly 462 percent.

Exports of chipmaking equipment and semiconductors surged 26.1 percent and 32.9 percent, respectively, with those of synthetic resins soaring 37.6 percent.

Thanks to the popularity of Korean pop culture, overseas shipments of cosmetics products expanded 14.2 percent in the first quarter, registering a 10-month gaining streak since June last year.

SMEs’ first-quarter exports to China, the United States, Vietnam and Germany rose 17.7 percent, 7.8 percent, 2.2 percent and 195.8 percent, respectively, but their shipments to Japan fell 1.1 percent.

Meanwhile, smaller firms’ online exports came to $245 million in the first quarter, up some 108 percent from a year earlier, according to the data.