Premium Price Handbags and Leather Goods: South Korean Market Accessibility

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Growing opportunities in the premium segments
of the South Korean handbag market

The analysis of world trade flows of handbags by price ranges highlights the growing relevance of High-price imports from Korea: in 2019 High-price Korean imports of the sector reached the record value of 905.4 millions USD, almost doubling the value recorded just 5 years earlier.

It is therefore important to understand the accessibility conditions of the South Korean market, especially in handbags and leather goods sector.

Accessibility conditions to the South Korean market

In 2011 the European Union and the Republic of Korea signed a Free Trade Agreement which provides the elimination of 98.7% of import duties, the overcoming of non-tariff barriers to trade, the liberalization of trade services (telecommunications, environmental services, navigation, financial and legal services), as well as provisions on investments, intellectual property rights protection, geographical indications and public procurement. The Agreement has been in force since 1 July 2011.

Thanks to the current Free Trade Agreement, the trade liberalization process is now almost completed (on almost 99% of tariff lines there are no quantitative restrictions): consequently, the export process does not present any particular difficulties compared to other closer countries.

Leather goods export subject to the Washington Convention

If the South Korean market does not present a lot of difficulties in terms of accessibility, it is good to keep in mind that the leather goods sector should always consider the special conditions for goods subject to the Washington Convention (CITES). The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention (CITES), is an international agreement between States which protects endangered plants and animals by regulating and monitoring their trade: export, import and re-export of live and dead animals, plants and their derivatives. The Convention entered into force in 1975 and has been joined by 183 Members (Parties), including the European Union since July 2015. CITES regulates the international trade of approximately 35.000 species, of which 30.000 are plants.
For companies, citizens who intend to import and/or export champions of flora, fauna or their parts and derivatives, from and to non-EU countries, it is advisable to control if products subject to import / export are regulated by CITIES.

Import and export permits have to be required before animals or plants (including their parts or derivatives) arrive at Customs; in case of absence of permit, the samples are confiscated and will incur the penalties provided for by law. For customs clearance of products obtained using particular types of leather in South Korea, a document is required to allow the effective importation of species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and their derivative products1.

Additional specific documentation for customs clearance in South Korea

In addition to the document mentioned above and all the traditional export certificates (Bills, Packaing List, Invoice, etc), there are some specific documents that South Korea customs clearance requires:
  • Import Permit for Goods in Approved Packaging Materials: a document that allows the effective import of goods whose packaging materials comply Korean standards
  • Import permit for wild animals: a document that allows the effective import of wild animals and derived products of species not covered by CITES
  • Safety certification of Industrial product: a document certifying that particular industrial and consumer products to be imported, which are highly likely to bear a risk for human health, property and / or the environment, subject to safety certification, comply with Korean standards
  • Safety Self-Assurance of Industrial Products: a document certifying that particular industrial and consumer products to be imported, which are highly likely to bear a risk for human health, property and / or the environment, are subject to safety guarantees in compliance with Korean or relevant international standards. Self-insurance is required for customs clearance and for market access, must be conducted by the importer or by the manufacturer with tests and inspections at an accredited or recognized institution
  • Country of Origin Labeling: In accordance with South Korean legislation, particular types of goods are subject to country of origin labeling.

  • Valeria Minasi

    is an export and internationalization consultant. She collaborates with the ExportPlanning team within the project International Market Accessibility Help-Desk.


    1) The permit must be requested by the importer at the Regional River Environmental Management Office of the Ministry of Environment. The headquarter is located at the following address: Government Complex-Sejong, 11, Doum 6-Ro, KR-339012 Korea, telephone number: +82 44 2016060. The application must be completed in Korean and must be submitted in the original. The processing time is seven days and there is a fee of KRW 100,000. Only valid for a single import. Korean document name = Kukjeajeog Myeoljong Wegijong (Jae) Suchul Banchul Suip Banip Heogasincheongseo. Source: Market Access Database.