FTC can’t see why contact lenses cost so much more

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FTC can’t see why contact lenses cost so much more


Due to the dominance of a few foreign players, prices of contact lenses are markedly higher in Korea than elsewhere, the country’s antitrust agency said yesterday.

Prices of contact lenses are as much as 64 percent higher here than abroad, said the Consumers Union of Korea, part of the Fair Trade Commission.

“The local contact lens market is being monopolized by a few foreign companies, which creates price bubbles,” the CUK said in a statement.

The agency found that Air Optix Aqua made by U.S.-based Ciba Vision is being sold for 58,214 won ($53.77) in Korea and for an average of 35,402 won in other countries.

Major product of Johnson & Johnson, the largest market player, are 11 percent to 34 percent higher.

The Korean market was estimated 200 billion won annually as of last year. Four foreign companies hold a combined 87 percent share.

According to the commission, manufacturing contact lenses requires huge facility and R&D investment in the initial stage only. If sales reach a certain level or a break-even point, costs could go down, the agency said.

“Foreign lens makers have recently been spending a lot as they aggressively market their products by releasing TV commercials featuring top celebrities,” the agency said

The agency also pointed out that tariffs for contacts were cut 2 percent to 2.7 percent after implementation of free trade agreements with the United States and European Union.

The consumers union investigated 157 optical stores in the country and in seven countries, including the United States, Japan and China.

It launched the investigation as part of efforts to tame inflation, given that about 10 percent of Koreans with vision problems.

“Since consumers spend more than 100,000 won to buy lenses every two or three months, lens prices affect household expenditures,” said Kim Soo-yeon, an official at the consumers union. “The prices need to be revised.”

Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue unit in Korea refuted the announcement.

“Foreign-made lenses are more expensive in Korea because lens prices here include costs for visual acuity tests,” said a PR employee for Acuvue. “Korean consumers can take the tests at optical stores for free, but a doctor’s prescription is mandatory to buy lenses in other countries.”?

She added, “Retail prices are solely determined by local stores.”

“Even though labor and other costs have been rising here, we haven’t raised the factory price of the first product launched 15 years ago in the Korean market.”

By Song Su-hyun [ssh@joongang.co.kr]
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