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S. Korean biz leaders meet with UAE president

S. Korea's conglomerate heads seek to seize more opportunities in UAE's defense, construction, cultural content sectors

May 28, 2024 - 15:47 By Park Han-na
Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong arrives to attend a meeting with United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at a hotel in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Leaders of major South Korean conglomerates met with United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Tuesday in search of ways to deepen business cooperation in defense and energy areas with the oil-rich Middle East state, on the occasion of the UAE leader’s first state visit to Korea.

Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Chung Euisun, Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Dong-kwan, HD Hyundai Vice Chairman Chung Ki-sun, GS Group Chairman Huh Tae-soo, CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, Hyosung Chairman Cho Hyun-joon, HYBE Chairman Bang Si-hyuk, Musinsa CEO Cho Man-ho, NCSoft CEO Kim Taek-jin held a talks in Seoul with UAE President who arrived here on Tuesday for a two-day visit to Korea.

In the meeting, lasting about an hour, large companies that have already forged partnerships with the UAE discussed additional collaboration measures in the first session. The second session was given for the introduction of relatively newly established firms including K-pop powerhouse Hybe and fashion platform Musinsa.

Details of the meeting were not disclosed but the Korean business leaders said the talks were held in an amicable atmosphere.

"(The UAE president) showed his fondness for Korea and told us to continue to work together," HD Hyundai Vice Chairman Chung told reporters after the meeting.

The closed-door meeting took place prior to the UAE leader’s summit with President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday, which is expected to deepen and develop further their "special strategic partnership," established when Yoon visited the Middle Eastern country last year.

Samsung Electronics' chief had been a member of the economic delegation accompanying Yoon to the UAE. He explored business cooperation opportunities in nuclear power plants, 5G, semiconductors, biotech and batteries.

Along with other Korean firms, Samsung C&T is participating in the construction of the Barakah nuclear power plant, UAE’s first nuclear power station, located in Al Dhafra, in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. In 2022, Lee visited the construction site for an inspection.

According to news reports, the UAE government plans to issue a tender for the construction of its second nuclear plant, planned for operation in 2032. There have been expectations that a face-to-face meeting would facilitate a better chance for Samsung affiliates to win the upcoming bid.

Another megaproject the UAE is pushing for and Korean firms are eyeing is transforming its Masdar City into the world's first "zero-carbon" and "zero-waste" city. Spread across 7 square kilometers, it is a 30-trillion-won ($22.1 billion) project.

SK Group and SK Eco Plant are participating in the development of green hydrogen projects in the UAE and Oman. Hyundai Motor signed a memorandum of understanding agreement with the UAE sovereign wealth fund in December last year and decided to pursue business cooperation in hydrogen, green aluminum, eco-friendly mobility and future aviation mobility sectors. Hanwha affiliate Hanwha Systems exported the Cheongung-II surface-to-air missile defense system to the UAE.

South Korean Trade Minister Cheong In-kyo (second from right in the first row), UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi (center) and Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry Executive Vice Chairman Park Il-joon (second from left) attend the Korea-UAE Business Forum at a Seoul hotel on Tuesday. (KCCI)

Before the meeting took place in the afternoon, some 200 business people and government officials from both countries gathered at the Korea-UAE Business Investment Forum, hosted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Seoul, held at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul in the morning.

During the business forum, the two countries vowed to bolster cooperation in clean energy, information and communications technology while creating synergy in the manufacturing and logistics sector through the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed by the two nations.

South Korea and the UAE inked the CEPA last October, creating a stepping stone for expanding cooperation to new areas beyond their conventional collaboration sectors such as energy and infrastructure construction.

Korean entrepreneurs interested in tapping into the UAE market were in attendance, including: Korea Aerospace Industries Vice President Yoon Chong-ho, Medytox CEO Jung Hyun-ho, Doosan Enerbility Vice President Kim Jong-du and Kakao Enterprise Vice President Lee Ji-hye.

From the UAE side, companies wishing to discuss expanding mutual investments with Korean firms took part. They include: Mubadala Investment, Essa Al Ghurair Investment, Lulu Group International, Al Sayegh Group and Dubai International Financial Center.

“The partnership between the two countries sprouted from plant and oil field development and developed into a special strategic partnership with the blessing of the Barakah nuclear power plant,” Trade Minister Cheong In-kyo said during the event.

“We will give our all to provide good soil and warm sunlight so that the seeds sown by businesspeople can sprout and grow well," Cheong said.