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Seoul - South Korea's current account surplus rose to a record $43.2 billion in 2012 on growing overseas construction orders and exports that remained relatively solid despite a global slowdown.

The surplus, the broadest measure of the country's trade with the rest of the world and including investment returns, smashed a previous record of $32.7 set in 2009, the Bank of Korea said Wednesday.

However, it predicted the annual surplus would fall to $32

billion in 2013, citing lingering weakness in the eurozone and a slow recovery in the United States.

Exports stood at $552.7 billion, up 0.2 percent from 2011, while imports fell 1.1 percent to $514.2 billion.

Overseas shipments of cars rose 3.6 percent to $42.4 billion despite sagging global demand, and shipments of petrochemical products climbed 9.0 percent to $56.7 billion.

Shipments of technology products remained nearly unchanged at $156 billion, with overseas sales of memory chips up 0.1 percent and display panels down 0.3 percent from a year earlier.

Sales to the South's top export market of China remained flat, while exports to the United States and the Middle East rose 4.1

percent and 11.4 percent respectively.

However, exports to recession-hit Europe fell 11.4 percent.

The services account reported the first surplus since 1998 of $2.7 billion, thanks to a record $16.8 billion surplus in construction services boosted by a series of orders won in regions including the Middle East.

The chronic deficit in the travel account improved to $5.9 billion compared to $7.4 billion a year ago with a boost in the number of foreign visitors.

The current account surplus for December fell to $2.25 billion from a record high of $6.9 billion in November, as fewer working days last month and weak car, machinery and steel product exports slashed trade gains.

Steady gains in the Korean won against major currencies and the recent weakening of the yen also took a toll in exports and the travel account.

Exports in December stood at $44.4 billion, down 7.2 percent from a year ago and lower than $49.6 billion in November. The travel account deficit jumped to $750 million from $570 in November. - Sapa-AFP