Duty-free shops not allowed to open in arrival terminals: minister

SEOUL, Aug. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has decided not to allow duty-free shops to open in arrival terminals of its international airports, the country's top economic policymaker said Wednesday, putting an end to a years-old controversy over the issue.

"We have held talks among related ministries (on this issue), in which we came to an agreement that it is not desirable to open duty-free shops in the arrival terminals at least at this moment," Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok told a meeting with other policymakers in Seoul.

Hyun cited possible side effects such as causing passenger inconvenience by increasing traffic in arrival terminals, hampering customs officials' work to check unauthorized items coming through airports and hurting small- and medium-sized businesses operating duty-free shops outside the airports.

The government has been divided over the issue for many years, with the finance ministry voicing concerns over such cited problems.

The ministry has also argued that expanding duty-free shops would benefit a relatively small group of people, cause a further fall in tax revenue and run counter to the taxation principle that duty-free benefits should apply toward goods consumed overseas.

Supporters, meanwhile, has said that it could bolster consumption, bring more travelers and eventually enhance the overall competitiveness of the country's international airports.

Setting up duty-free shops for arriving travelers was first discussed in 2001 when the country opened the Incheon International Airport, the main gateway to South Korea, but the government failed to reach an agreement.

For more than a decade, three bills have been introduced to the National Assembly in order to allow for the opening of such shops, but all of them have gone nowhere amid such controversy.

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