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Holiday hopes higher for fish stores, flower farms

Lifting of price ceiling on gifts allowed under law boosts optimism
Jan 24,2018
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Left: A customer shopping for Lunar New Year gifts listens to a clerk explaining the so-called Kim Young-ran law at the Nonghyup Hanaro Mart in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul, on Jan. 18. Right: A flower market in Yangjae-dong on Jan. 14. [YONHAP]
Yeonggwang County in South Jeolla has a Gulbi Street jammed with stores selling dried corvina, one of the most popular gifts exchanged during major holidays.

With Lunar New Year approaching, merchants were asked how their business has been especially after an anticorruption law was changed to allow people to give public servants gifts of up to 100,000 won ($93). The first version of the law prohibited anything above 50,000 won.

“We had a really hard time,” said Kang Chul, 71, head of Yeonggwang’s dried corvine cooperative. “On the hope that sales would go up this year, we’ve prepared dried corvina sets priced at exactly 100,000 won targeted at public-sector workers.”

But Lee Gwang-yong, the 47-year old owner of Namyang Gulbi, said his customers seem to be sticking with the old rule. “The atmosphere I feel among customers is that they prefer to purchase 50,000 won sets, the previous limit, or not buy at all.” He doesn’t think the change in the law will help his business.

Changes to the so-called Kim Young-ran Law went into effect last Wednesday. The limit on gifts of agricultural, marine and livestock products was lifted from 50,000 won to 100,000 won.

Most farms welcomed the change.

Preorders of New Year’s gift sets have increased from last year. Orders from Hanaro Mart rose 65.3 percent to 860 million won between Dec. 28 and Jan. 11 compared to the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Han Myeong-whan, 62, grows aronia berries at Dawoon Farm in Pocheon, Gyeonggi. “I’m preparing to put on sale a 100,000 won box of aronia powder for the upcoming Lunar New Year,” he said. “After the antigraft law was implemented, nobody wanted to buy sets priced above 100,000 won, and the fear of doing something wrong hurt sales of 50,000 won products as well. I’m hoping the situation will get a little better this year.”

Kwon Byeong-chul, who runs an apple farm in Uiseong, Gyeonggi, thinks the higher ceiling has to help. “I think it will encourage customers to buy more gifts this year,” he said.

“There’s not much to look forward to,” said Noh Jeong-ho, a 61-year-old farmer who raises 70 Korean cows for hanwoo in Yangpyeong County, Gyeonggi. “A hanwoo set worth 100,000 won contains around 1 kilogram [2 pounds] of beef. That is too small to be called a ‘gift set.’ A conventional hanwoo set needs to be at least 2 to 3 kilograms worth 200,000 to 300,000 won.”

After the changes in the law, Gyeonggi’s provincial government has been rolling up its sleeves to help local farms.

First, it pledged to open flower gardens at 200 elementary schools, sourcing the flowers from local growers. After the law went into effect, people were afraid of sending flowers, a common gift to send when an acquaintance gets a promotion at the workplace. The project will cost approximately 2 billion won.

Another 4.3 billion won will be spent to buy fruit for more than 380,000 children at Gyeonggi’s day care centers, an assistance to fruit farms in the province.

“After the antigraft law went into effect, sales at flower markets across the metropolitan area have fallen 5.1 percent, with losses particularly heavy in flowers bought as gifts,” said Lee Moon-mu, an official at the Gyeonggi Provincial Government’s Agricultural Maritime Bureau. “The measure was aimed at supporting flower and fruit farms that were having a difficult time.”

In collaboration with the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the city of Pohang will organize a promotion to sell the region’s maritime products at Jamsil Station in southern Seoul between Thursday and Saturday.

“Now that the gift limit is higher, we’re hoping that abalone worth 60,000 won to 70,000 won per kilo will sell better for Lunar New Year,” said Jeong Chul-young, who works for the Pohang government’s Fisheries Promotion Division.


BY JEON ICK-JIN, KIM BANG-HYEON, KIM JUN-HEE AND BAEK KYUNG-SEO [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]