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Seoul halts plan for cross-border shopping limits

May 19, 2024 - 18:22 By Son Ji-hyoung
Lee Jeong-won (second from left), second vice minister of the Office for Government Policy Coordination, speaks during a pangovernmental press briefing held at the Government Complex Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)

South Korea on Sunday withdrew its plan to ban foreign businesses from selling goods for cross-border shopping without South Korea's safety certifications just three days after the government mapped out the plan to protect its consumers.

Lee Jeong-won, second vice minister of the Office for Government Policy Coordination, said in a briefing in Seoul on Sunday that it is not true that the government was seeking a "preemptive all-out ban on cross-border shopping of 80 items," adding the measure is "physically and legally impossible."

With this, Lee retracted the government's earlier announcement on Thursday that it would ban consumers from buying 80 types of items including toys, strollers, safety gear for kids, heated mattresses, lighting appliances and household chemicals, among others.

The government then said in a statement after a ministerial meeting at Incheon Airport Thursday that none of the 80 types of goods can proceed through customs without South Korea's KC safety certification mark, describing these items as "hazardous for South Korean people's safety and health."

Instead, Lee said Seoul intended to undertake an inspection of these items and impose a ban on goods that are deemed unsafe after the results of the inspection are revealed.

"There is no reason to ban (Korean consumers') cross-border shopping of items that are not harmful," Lee said, adding the restrictions on items found to be harmful could be in effect beginning in June.

Lee also said the KC safety certification "is not the only means" of ensuring product safety, and said the government is open to collecting public opinion on how to do so.

This came as Thursday's announcement by the conservative government to make it mandatory for all potentially harmful items from foreign businesses to receive a safety certification drew a slew of criticism from the ruling bloc.

Han Dong-hoon, former interim chair of the ruling People Power Party who was known as President Yoon Suk Yeol's political lieutenant, said the government's plan "overly restricts consumers' choice and should be reconsidered" on his Facebook page on Saturday. It was the first time Han expressed his opinion on the government's policy following his resignation from his post after the ruling party's crushing defeat in the April parliamentary election.

Conservative heavyweight Yoo Seong-min, who formerly served four terms as a lawmaker, also opposed to the government's planned ban, saying the regulation "must be in the right place so that no consumers are left at a disadvantage," in a social media post Saturday.

South Korean people spent a total of 6.76 trillion won ($4.99 billion) on cross-border shopping in 2023, on the back of the rise of Chinese e-commerce platforms such as AliExpress and Temu.