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UPDATE 1-S.Korea Aug 1-20 exports log milder decline than in July

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SEOUL, Aug 21 (Reuters) - South Korean exports contracted by a smaller percentage in the first 20 days of August than in July, boosting hopes for a trade-led recovery even as threats loom from a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the capital Seoul.

Exports contracted 7% from a year earlier in the period, versus a drop of 13% in the comparable period in July, data from the Korea Customs Service showed on Friday.

Imports declined 12.8% on year in the first 20 days of August.

Average exports per working day declined 3.7% during the period, an improvement after about a 7% drop in the same period last month.

Friday’s data indicates South Korean exports are set to fall for a sixth month in August but at a slower pace, a further sign that Asia’s fourth-largest economy may bottom out despite threats from a resurgence of the novel coronavirus.

Overseas sales to China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner, fell 0.2% while that to the United States rose 6.2%.

By item, exports of semiconductors increased 2.9% in the first 20 days of August, while that for petrochemical products and cars dropped by 39.0% and 10.1%, respectively.

Threats loom. Authorities on Thursday said coronavirus infections are back “in full swing” and spreading nationwide after members of a church attended a political demonstration, threatening one of the world’s COVID-19 success stories.

As of Thursday, South Korea has reported 16,346 cases of the new coronavirus with 307 COVID-19 deaths.

Full month trade data for August will be released on Sept. 1. (Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing)