Lobster imports last year hit a record high of 4,500 tons valued at 94 million US dollars, up 13.7 percent from a year ago, despite a business setback in South Korea's dining industry, data showed Tuesday.
Official data released by the Korea Customs Service on Tuesday showed that nearly all lobsters sold in South Korea were coming from North America thanks to reduced tariffs under free trade accords.
Canadian lobsters accounted for 63.7 percent of South Korea's total lobster imports last year with $60 million, and US lobsters cornered 35.9 percent with $34 million. The state agency predicted there would be no change in the taste of Koreans eating lobsters, which are not caught around the Korean peninsula.
Lobsters used to be an expensive delicacy in South Korea, but free trade accords opened a window of opportunity for Canada and the United States to export marine products to South Korea at cheaper prices.
Imports of US lobsters soared from $771,000 in 2011 to almost $16 million in 2013. Exporters have also made deals with giant supermarkets in South Korea to provide fresh lobsters in large quantities at cheaper prices. A popular lobster chain in Seoul sells one kilogram of lobster for about 50,000 ($44), though the price can run higher depending on where someone dines and when.
The growing popularity of imported lobsters is remarkable, compared to an overall business slump that hit hard the country's dining industry. Government data showed a business index measuring the performance of restaurants stood at 65.04 in the fourth quarter of last year, down from 67.51 in the previous quarter.
The drop was attributable to a prolonged economic slump and weak consumer sentiment. An anti-graft law, which took effect on September 28 last year, played a role in dampening private spending.
The law bans four million public servants, educators and journalists from receiving free meals valued over 30,000 won ($26.4) and gifts worth more than 50,000 won. Violators face a maximum sentence of three years in jail and a fine of up to 30 million won.
Lim Chang-won = firstname.lastname@example.org