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SEOUL, March 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports of auto parts reached a record high last year on the back of growing demand for South Korean automobiles around the world, a trade association said Tuesday.

According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), South Korea's outbound shipments of auto parts reached US$24.6 billion last year, and the country posted a surplus of $19.7 billion in auto parts trade.

Exports of auto parts have been on a steady increase since early 2000 as local automakers such as Hyundai Motor Co. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. established production lines in overseas countries.

The trade association also attributed the increased overseas sales to increased demand for South Korean autos on the back of improved brand awareness and product quality.

The country's five automakers, led by Hyundai Motor, exported a combined 3.17 million vehicles last year, up 0.6 percent from a year earlier, with the value of outbound shipments reaching a record US$43.63 billion, industry data showed.

The mild rise in auto exports was led by increased sales in the North America, with some 905,000 units shipped to the region last year, up 17.4 percent from the previous year.

Exports to other regions declined sharply last year, however, as the global economic downturn prodded consumers there to delay purchases of new cars, according to the data.

Auto parts exports to China, the world's largest auto market, reached a record $4.45 billion last year, with imports from the neighboring country amounting to $1.29 billion, KITA said.

South Korea logged a record surplus of $3.16 billion in auto parts trade last year.

The country's auto parts exports to the U.S. reached $5.64 billion last year, and imports from the world's second-largest auto market stood at $366 million, according to KITA.

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