SOUTH KOREA - Imports of luxury items such as premium brand clothes, handbags and cosmetics hit a record high US$8.6 billion (S$10.6 billion) last year despite the reeling economy.
Imports of the five main nonessentials -- luxury brand clothes, watches, golf clubs, handbags and cosmetics -- gained 2.93 per cent compared to 2011, the Korea Customs Office said on Sunday.
"The growth rate (of imports of the five nonessential goods) fell far short of the 34.25 per cent increase in 2011, but considering that the Korean GDP grew only 2 per cent last year, consumers' preference for foreign labels did not ebb," KCS official said.
Over $6 billion or 70 per cent of last year's imports of high-end goods was clothing.
Handbags rose by US$50 million to US$952 million, while cosmetics gained US$20 million to US$883 million.
Imports of golf clubs, on the other hand, dropped by US$25 million to US$245 million.
Presuming the demand for luxury items will not dip this year, the KCS said it will intensify customs duties inquiries on multinational companies that are suspected of evading tariffs as they import expensive consumer goods.
The KCS plans to look into the appropriateness of their reported tariffs, foreign currency trading, whether they received excessive tax returns or unfair tax cuts, or violated import-export rules.
Meanwhile, local department stores are set to introduce more premium watch brands as sales jumped last year thanks to growing demand from professional men and Chinese tourists.
Sales of imported luxury watches such as Rolex, IWC and Breguet surged 20.6 per cent at Lotte, 26.3 per cent at Hyundai, 18 per cent at Shinsegae and 38 per cent at Galleria last year.
These watches are priced from millions of won to tens of millions of won per piece.