Business

South Korean imports of Japanese beers and autos nose-dive amid diplomatic dispute

Bloomberg, Reuters

South Korean imports of beer from Japan plunged 97 percent in August from a year earlier, a local newspaper reported, amid a popular backlash against Japanese products that has spread as relations between the two countries sour.

Japanese automakers also posted sharper sales falls in South Korea last month, industry data showed Wednesday, hit by a consumer boycott of Japanese vehicles.

South Korea imported just $223,000 worth of Japanese beer in the month, down from $7.57 million a year earlier, the Maeil Business Newspaper said, citing preliminary data from Korea Customs Service. Japan has held the largest share of South Korean beer imports every year since 2010, with sales surging more than sixfold by 2018 to $78.3 million.

Japan’s largest publicly traded brewers such as Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., Kirin Holdings Co. and Sapporo Holdings Ltd. all export beer to South Korea and had in previous years cited growth in that market as promising.

The boycott of Japanese goods has spread since Tokyo first imposed export restrictions on key chip materials in July, and worsened as the spat grew to include South Korea’s preferential trade status. Seoul also decided to scrap a military intelligence-sharing agreement.

Consumer-facing brands have been hit particularly hard, with consumers boycotting clothing from Fast Retailing Co.’s Uniqlo.

Toyota Motor Corp. and other Japanese carmakers saw South Korean sales tumble 57 percent to 1,398 vehicles in August from a year earlier, steeper than the 17 percent fall in July.

Toyota’s South Korean sales fell 59 percent to 542 in August from a year earlier, while Honda Motor’s sales tumbled 81 percent to 138.

Toyota’s Lexus was the top-selling Japanese brand in South Korea, with sales reaching 603 vehicles in August, up 7.7 percent from year earlier, but down 39 percent from July.

Tourism to Japan, a key economic pillar of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, has also been impacted as Korean tourists cancel travel plans and airlines scale back flights.

The trade dispute may not be without its winners, however — shares in South Korean brewer Hite Jinro Co. have risen to the highest level in more than a year amid swift sales of its new beer.

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