The Korea Herald


Safeguarding mask supplies at border

KCS’ prompt measures to stop overseas mask shipments contributes to nation’s stable supply

By Choi Jae-hee

Published : April 26, 2020 - 16:53

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Korea Customs Service Commissioner Roh Suk-hwan inspects clearance procedures for protective face masks at Incheon Airport on March 25. (KCS) Korea Customs Service Commissioner Roh Suk-hwan inspects clearance procedures for protective face masks at Incheon Airport on March 25. (KCS)

Soon after South Korea reported the first novel coronavirus infection here, the government moved swiftly to contain its spread. Not only health authorities, but each public office had its own role to play. 

The Korea Customs Service, a government agency under the Ministry of Economy and Finance, was assigned to prevent the possible outflow of masks, considered fundamental sanitary gear, to secure public safety. 

To stabilize South Korea’s face mask supply, the KCS embarked on keeping a lid on illegal exports of protective face masks in early February.

From airports to ports, customs officers stepped up efforts to detect illegal exports of masks and strictly check on shipments that had applied for the official clearance process. 

In two months, the agency detected a total of 830,000 masks attempted for illegal shipments, according to KCS Commissioner Roh Suk-hwan. He believes that the organization has contributed to the secure stable supply of masks.

“The KCS will continue to make all-out efforts to bust attempts to export face masks illegally and strengthen our countermeasures against the coronavirus spread,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“Not only are we conducting a strict screening process of illegal shipments of masks, but also putting utmost administrative capability to keep the stable supply of the products nationwide. The people don’t need to worry about possible shortages of masks from now on.”

In support of airport operators and air carriers, the KCS has started to crack down on travelers who take over 300 masks out of the country without filing official documents for customs clearance. 

Even with required documents presented, the KCS requests to attach receipts of mask purchases worth over 2 million won ($1,630) as well as confirmation of the manufacturing of products. 

Normally, preregistered business-to-customer exporters have access to simplified customs procedures. In light of recent circumstances, however, outbound shipments of more than 1,000 units or 2 million won in masks and sanitizer are obliged to follow regular procedures.

Also, authorities effectuated a special market regulation banning the monopolization of masks and hand sanitizer, punishable by up to two years in jail or a fine of 50 million won. A pangovernmental control team, comprising the KCS and the National Police Agency, are in charge of surveillance.

Meanwhile, the KCS donated confiscated masks at the border to welfare centers across the country.

On March 16, the KCS commissioner visited the Korea National Council on Social Welfare to donate 15,000 masks to the organization. 

It was the seventh installment of mask donations by the KCS since Feb. 6, officials said.

By Choi Jae-hee and Lee Kwon-hyoung ( (