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South Korea wants better business ties with Saudi Arabia

Staff writer |
President Park Geun-hye proposed that South Korea and Saudi Arabia diversify their business cooperation into nuclear reactors, renewable energy and health care, Park's office said.

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The bilateral economic ties have long been dominated by oil imports and construction projects. Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of crude oil to South Korea and is the largest market for South Korean builders.

Park made the offer in a meeting with hundreds of businessmen and officials between the two countries at a hotel on the second and last day of her visit to Saudi Arabia.

Oil-rich Middle East countries are seeking to diversify their economic portfolios ahead of the inevitable advent of a post-oil era, a move Seoul says could present new business opportunities for South Korean companies.

On Tuesday, Park held summit talks with Saudi Arabia's newly enthroned King Salman.

A key centerpiece of the summit is a memorandum of understanding calling for a joint partnership on a nuclear reactor developed by South Korea for export to water-scarce countries, including the Middle East.

South Korea said the MOU could help its companies win a $2 billion project to build two mid-size commercial reactors in Saudi Arabia if the desert kingdom decides to build the reactors after a preliminary review set to end by 2018.

The move comes as Saudi Arabia pushes to develop nuclear reactors to meet its growing energy needs. The kingdom plans to install up to 18 nuclear reactors by 2040.

South Korea which relies on 23 nuclear reactors for one-third of its energy needs has emerged as a new export powerhouse of nuclear power plants in recent years.

In 2009, a South Korean consortium won a $20.4 billion project to build four light water nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates by 2020 in South Korea's first export of nuclear reactors.

Also Wednesday, Park was to meet with Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to discuss ways to expand investment between the two countries, Park's office said.

Trade volume between the two countries stood at $45 billion last year, according to South Korean data.

Alwaleed, chairman of Kingdom Holding Co. is known as the Saudi Warren Buffett and is No. 34 on Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest men for 2015 with a net worth of $23 billion.

Park also plans to meet with Hashim Yamani, head of Saudi Arabia's renewable energy agency KA CARE, before leaving for the United Arab Emirates, the third stop on her four-nation swing that will also take her to Qatar.

Earlier this week, she visited Kuwait and met with its emir and sought his interest and assistance to ensure that South Korean companies can participate in industrial and infrastructure projects in the oil-rich country.

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