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Saudi oil tycoons to explore ties with Korea

Oil minister, top refinery executives will gather in Seoul late this month

Saudi Arabia will seek to strengthen cooperation with South Korea when its top government and business leaders visit Seoul later this month, industry sources said Wednesday.

Sources said the Saudi oil minister and top executives of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil exporter, will meet Korean officials and industry leaders to discuss bilateral cooperation in the energy sector.

The Saudi delegation includes Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi and Aramco president and CEO Khalid A. Al-Falih. 

During the visit, the high-level delegation is scheduled to attend Saudi Aramco’s regular board meeting in Seoul, sources said.

Top Aramco officials reportedly hold meetings with high-ranking officials in various countries around the world. The executives visited Korea for the first time in 2011.

Aramco’s 11 board members, including Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Finance Ibrahim Al-Assaf and Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Economic Council Secretary General Majid Al-Moneef, will attend the board meeting, according to sources.

The trip will include a visit to S-Oil’s refinery in Ulsan, where Korea’s third-largest refinery company is investing about 5 trillion won ($4.53 billion).

Aramco, which is a majority stakeholder of S-Oil with a 63.41 percent stake, is Saudi Arabia’s state-run firm and has an annual production capacity of 3.4 billion barrels. The Saudi company provides more than 34 percent of local oil imports.

Industry officials speculate that company officials will also meet privately with other local refinery firms, including SK Energy, GS Caltex, Hyundai Oilbank, similar to their last visit in Korea.

Experts say Aramco’s decision to hold the board meeting in Seoul is an extension of the two country’s recently strengthened economic cooperation.

In January, President Park Geun-hye met with the Aramco chairman during the World Economic Forum and asked to actively participate in the so-called Northeastern Oil Hub Project being pushed by the Korean government in Yeosu in South Jeolla Province and Ulsan.

The project, launched in 2008, aims to build oil storage with a capacity of 36.6 million barrels and trading facilities in Ulsan and Yeosu. The government said it will develop the facilities into one of the top four oil hubs worldwide, along with the U.S., Europe and Singapore.

By Suk Gee-hyun (