On Monday (local time), South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye had a summit with Kuwaiti King Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah in his kingdom, the first stop on her four-nation Middle East tour.
The Gulf nations are seeking to diversify their oil-centered business portfolio to prepare for the post-oil era. Korea has recognized the importance of this growing market by sending its largest-ever business delegation, comprised of 116 representatives of public and private firms.
The Middle East is developing into an attractive business destination not only for energy and construction companies, but also for information technology, medical services, and renewable energy.
Park’s Senior Secretary for the Economy, An Chong-bum, said, “To expand cooperation in a wide range of fields including business, security, and culture, we expect to sign a number of MOUs with our counterparts.”
Living up to his expectations, Korean companies sealed nine memoranda of understanding (MOUs) in the summit to invite oil money to fuel South Korea’s slowing economy.
Kuwait’s Petrochemical Industries Company (PIC) promised SK Gas 80 billion won (US$72 million) in investment money, and Kuwait’s Industrial Bank will join hands with the Korea-GCC Economic Cooperation Fund to establish a BOPP film plant worth US$100 million.
The presidential office announced that the summit aided Korean firms in winning construction deals worth a total of US$38.1 billion. It includes US$7.8 billion of oil-refining plant construction, US$22 billion in Kuwaiti metro construction, a US$1.8 billion railway network project, a US$1.5 billion Umm Al Hayman wastewater treatment plant construction project, and a US$5 billion new city construction project.
Before these achievements, Hyundai Engineering & Construction and GS E&C won the largest civil project in the Middle East, the Jaber Bridge Project worth 3 trillion won (US$2.7 billion). Jaber Bridge is now under construction, and when completed in 2018 will be the world’s largest marine bridge at 48 km.
"There's all this talk about another boom in the Middle East. We have strong ties with the region. There are more areas than ever where our companies can cooperate with countries in the Middle East," said President Park. Park will also ask Kuwait to reaffirm its support for peace on the Korean Peninsula and discuss issues of global peace and stability. Her nine day trip will continue to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.