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South Korea makes its presence felt in Middle East

A South Korean company is to help build a $3.5 billion petrochemical plant in Egypt, the latest coup for East Asian companies competing for industrial projects in the Middle East.

South Korean companies are bagging multibillion-dollar contracts in the Middle East, with deals this week to build plants in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Now South Korea is shooting for a bigger target - the region's proposed nuclear power plants. Korean and Saudi officials will meet on Monday in Riyadh, laying the foundation for South Korea to sell its nuclear technology.

Riyadh has yet to announce the scope of its nuclear power programme, which it hopes can supply up to a fifth of its electricity needs.

South Korea sent its nuclear technology abroad for the first time in 2009 when a consortium from the country won a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn)contract to build four reactors for Abu Dhabi.

It also sold a research reactor to Jordan. The planned nuclear talks in Riyadh follow a flurry of other energy deals for South Korea in the region.

Saudi Electricity, the state utility, yesterday signed a $3bn agreement for its Qurayyah power plant with Samsung C&T and Saudi Acwa Power, according to Bloomberg News.

On Tuesday, the South Korean company SK Engineering & Construction and its US partner Shaw Group secured the contract for a $3.5bn Egyptian petrochemical plant in Ain Sukhna, 120km east of Cairo.

"Egypt is due for explosive growth if the right tools are put in place, and everything that we have seen over the past six months tells us that we are headed in this direction," Basil El Baz, the chairman of Carbon Holdings, the Egyptian company building the plant, said in June.

"Egypt is like a stock that is not being valued accurately, and it will be due for some robust expansion over the next 12 to 18 months."

The plant is expected to produce 1.35 million tonnes of ethylene a year.

Since 2007, the Middle East has increased production of ethylene - the raw material for polymers - by adding 13 plants, nearly doubling capacity to 28 million tonnes a year.

Now the drive to supply to the ethylene market, growing at 4.7 per cent a year, is limited by the hydrocarbon resources Middle Eastern countries can draw on,said Tony Potter, the managing director for the Middle East and India at Chemical Market Associates in Dubai.

"The industry in the region now is entering a phase where the ability to build new ethylene plants is limited by the amount of new feedstock that's available."

ayee@thenational.ae

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