South Korea is aiming to cement strong economic ties with the UAE by co-operating in energy, technology and agriculture, a top official said in Abu Dhabi this week.
Choi Joong-Kyung, the South Korean minister of knowledge economy, said he hoped to build on the relationship that started in late 2009 when a Korean consortium won a deal to build and run four nuclear reactors in the Emirates.
"In the energy field, I would like more Korean companies to participate in projects to develop oilfields in the UAE and also in the renewable energy sector," said Mr Choi, who was in the capital to meet government officials.
"Other than the energy sector, I also hope that more Korean companies will establish a presence in the semiconductor, shipbuilding, IT and other sectors where Korea has technologies and strengths.
"And as both countries have some problems with food security, I believe that there is much potential for bilateral co-operation in the agricultural sector."
Business ties between South Korea and the UAE took a major leap forward in December 2009 when a group of Korean companies beat US and French rivals bidding for the US$20 billion (Dh73.45bn) nuclear reactor contract.
Last month, the Korea National Oil Corporation won a preliminary contract to explore for oil in two undeveloped fields in Abu Dhabi, and Daewoo Engineering and Construction won a contract to build a $1.5bn gas-fired power plant in the capital.
Opportunities for even closer ties were abundant as the UAE continued on a long-standing drive to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons, invest in renewables and address issues such as food security and water management, Mr Choi said.
He said the existing relationship between the two countries was not threatened by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which had forced a careful examination of safety measures planned for the UAE's nuclear reactors.
"In this region, geologically I believe there is almost no possibility for earthquakes and tsunamis, but I would like to stress that we should carry out a more thorough and strong review on the possibility of earthquakes or other accidents," Mr Choi said.
The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, the UAE's safety regulator, has already launched a review after the Japanese tsunami engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, spreading radiation into nearby water sources and crops.
Both countries still believe in the potential for nuclear energy, Mr Choi said, adding that he hoped they could eventually work together on nuclear projects outside the UAE.
"Korea is planning to provide training programmes for young UAE workers for the operation and construction of the power plants," he said. "Eventually, I believe that our two nations will be able to work together to advance into a third country's market for nuclear power plant construction projects."
Similar joint venture investments could be on the cards in agriculture, Mr Choi said, given the heavy reliance of both countries on imported food. The UAE imports almost all of its food, and Korea imports about 70 per cent of staple grain products.
"If we work together to advance into a third country's agricultural sector to carry out joint agricultural projects, I believe that we will not only feed both countries' people but also create lucrative business opportunities," he said.
It was too early to say which countries a joint investment in agriculture would target, Mr Choi said, but it would ideally be in regions that have more than one growing season a year.
Other forms of co-operation in making semiconductors, water management, shipping and small business development could also lie in the future, he said.
South Korea and the UAE could hold joint seminars in which Korean officials would outline their experience with supporting and promoting small businesses, Mr Choi said, to follow a memorandum of understanding the countries signed last December.
*This article has been modified from the original to reflect the fact that the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and not the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation is the UAE's safety regulator.