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Downtown new duty-free shops in South Korea may delay openings

Incheon Airport South Korea Seoul News - Retail In Asia

“Several city duty-free shop openings might be delayed as China’s economic retaliation over the deployment of the U.S. antimissile system have impaired the market.

The Korea Duty Free Shops Association said that it proposed last week that Korea Customs Service push back the due date for new licensees to launch operations, originally set for December.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the market right now including the Thaad issue and some of the new licensees are said to be facing difficulties to meet the due date,” said a KDFA spokesman.

The customs office said it is looking into the issue. “The agenda will be discussed at the duty free license committee later this month at the earliest,” said a source at the Korea Customs Office. “Exactly when the results will be out are unsure because we’re still setting the schedule, but we intend to reflect the operators’ opinion as much as possible.”

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In December, the customs office issued six licenses for new duty-frees in the city. Three for Seoul went to conglomerates Hyundai Department Store, Lotte Duty Free and Shinsegae DF. The rest were smaller local companies.

Current law requires operators to open their businesses within one year of acquiring a license, which means the six new incomers were to launch by year end. During this period, the companies are required to fulfill certain criteria set by the customs office in terms of employment and facilities.

Korea’s duty-free market is struggling, as the number of visitors has rapidly declined since mid-March when the Chinese government halted group tours to Korea from China. Chinese tourists had been a core customer base for duty free operators, making up 70 percent of sales.

Industry leaders like Lotte have seen sales drop 20 percent to 30 percent in the aftermath. “