RIYADH -- President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday met business magnates and investors in the capital city of Saudi Arabia, to forge fresh business relations amid falling oil prices and a slowing Korean economy.
At a forum hosted by Korean and Saudi Arabian business representatives, Park called for joint efforts to upgrade economic relations and to shift focus from heavy industries to renewable energy, medical services and investments.
President Park Geun-hye (right), Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Abdulaziz Al Saud, chairman of Kingdom Holding Co.(Yonhap)
“I believe that the bilateral economic cooperation should take a future-oriented approach in line with new growth strategies of the two nations,” Park said at the forum.
“I wish that all business leaders of the two countries become partners for economic prosperity, and I assure you that I and the government of South Korea will become your strong supporters,” she said.
The president also urged Saudi investors to seek joint measures to enter emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa with Korean firms.
During the forum, business leaders from the two countries signed memoranda of understanding on a joint study on desalination of seawater and development in the fields of construction, automobile and other industries. Saudi’s Public Investment Fund and POSCO Engineering & Construction, an affiliate of the Korean steel giant, signed an MOU to help the Gulf nation develop its own car industry.
About 300 business leaders attended the forum, including Saudi Minister of Commerce and Industry Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al Rabiah and Abdullatif bin Ahmed Al Othman, governor of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
Later in the afternoon, Park held separate talks with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Abdulaziz Al Saud, chairman of Kingdom Holding Co., a Riyadh-based investment firm, and Hashim Yamani, head of Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy agency KA CARE -- meetings meant to build up practical cooperation at the business level.
The meetings came a day after she held a summit with the newly crowned King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The two leaders agreed to explore opportunities to build Korean-made midsized nuclear reactors in the Gulf nations -- projects that may be worth as much as $2 billion. They also agreed to strengthen cooperation in creative economy, medical services and information technology.
Park requested Prince Alwaleed to jointly seek new investment opportunities with Korean firms as part of efforts to diversify the business relations between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia is Korea’s fourth-largest trading partner. The total trade volume between the two countries reached $45 billion in 2014, according to officials. Mineral fuel and crude oil constituted nearly 99 percent of imports from the Gulf nations to Korea while Asia’s fourth largest economy exported mainly cars and construction vehicles and equipment.
The prince, popularly known as Warren Buffett of the Middle East, was ranked 34th in the list of the world’s 100 richest men by Forbes for 2015, with assets worth $23 billion. He has been making investments in various sectors including film, retail, petrochemical and entertainment. Alwaleed is a nephew of the late Saudi King Abdullah and a grandson of Riad Al Solh, Lebanon’s first prime minister, Park’s office said. He has expressed keen interest in Korea and has visited Seoul four times so far, it added.
The president also met Hashim Yamani, who has been leading Saudi’s nuclear power plant construction projects. The head of Saudi’s renewable energy agency is a crucial figure as he is in charge of Saudi’s long-term plan to build up to 18 18-gigawatt nuclear power plants by 2040, officials said.
The agreement reached by the two sides on Tuesday was expected to open opportunities for Korean firms to participate in the kingdom’s nuclear reactor projects. Under the agreement, the two agreed to build Korea’s SMART reactors in the Gulf nations and commercialize its technology in order to jointly enter the global market.
The SMART reactors, designed by the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, was developed to target the Middle East countries as it generates electric power and also desalinates seawater.
Park also met Korean residents in the kingdom and asked for their assistance to upgrade bilateral ties.
By Cho Chung-un, Korea Herald correspondent (email@example.com)