South Korean car exports fell sharply in the first two months of 1989 due mainly to the effect of strikes and the ever-rising won, industry officials said Monday.

According to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers' Association, overseas sales by South Korea's three biggest producers totaled 78,425 cars and vans for January-February, down from 95,690 in the same 1988 period."The won's steady appreciation and labor problems are behind the slowdown," association director Hu Wan said.

South Korea's currency rose more than 25 percent against the dollar in the past two years and is still appreciating, though at a slower rate.

Strikes hit all three main suppliers last year, and this week assembly lines at Daewoo and Kia were again slowed by disputes affecting employees and parts suppliers.

The third and biggest producer, Hyundai, exported 51,741 vehicles in January-February against 69,636 in the first two months of 1988. Daewoo sold 11,440 (12,309), and Kia 15,244 (13,745).

Last year, the big three combined for total overseas sales of 571,707, well short of their target of 700,000.

"With this trend, we don't think the big three's original export target (of 630,000 vehicles) could be met this year," Hu said.

Business sources said domestic sales should overtake exports from this year due to a fast-growing local market and an expected slow-down in overseas demand.

Nine of every 10 South Korean cars sold abroad go to North America.

Seoul has been making highly-publicized efforts to close its controversial trade gap with the United States, which last year totaled $8.5 billion.