June 22nd, 2012
12:37 PM GMT
Abu Dhabi (CNN) – Growing economic ties between the UAE and South Korea are encouraging an influx of Koreans into the Gulf nation.
There are currently an estimated 7,500 Korean in the UAE, and that number is expected to reach 13,000 in the next two years.
Lee Hyo-Won owns a restaurant in Abu Dhabi and has experienced the influx first hand. “Twelve years ago, it's not easy finding Koreans in the street. Now we can see anywhere, shopping malls, schools, it's easy to find Koreans,” she told CNN’s Schams Elwazer.
Last year, trade between South Korea and the UAE grew 24% to $22 billion. The boom is riding the economic momentum created in 2009 when the UAE granted a South Korean consortium a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear reactors - the first in the region outside of Iran and Israel.
“That was a kind of a sign of trust given by the UAE government to the Korean companies and since that time onward we think that the Korean companies became very confident in the relationship, as well as the commercial prospects,” said Kwon Tae-Kyun, South Korean Ambassador to the UAE.
In March 2012, Abu Dhabi granted oil concessions to the state-run Korean national oil corporation and GS Energy to explore a tenth of this Emirate’s land mass, giving the Asian nation a foothold in an industry traditionally dominated by Western companies.
At the core of the relationship are strong government ties. South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak, who is a former CEO of Hyundai with extensive business experience in the Middle East, has visited the UAE twice in as many years.
A series of ministerial delegations have penned deals in industries as varied as health, agriculture, education and military cooperation, as well as traditional sectors such as construction and energy. It's a relationship officials say is complementary, with the UAE providing oil and gas and Korea offering industries and know-how.
“Over the past three years, the two sides in a very harmonious way have been able to exchange these areas of strength between each other and benefit each other,” said Sultan Al Mansoori, UAE’s minister of economy. “I hope that other countries of the world will learn about the lesson that we have created with this beautiful example of cooperation.”
Bahk Jae-Wan, South Korean Minister of Strategy and Finance, concurs. “Our economic structure is complementary with each other,” he said. “Korea lacks natural resources but we are abundant in terms of human resources, whereas UAE has enormous natural resources and has very proper and great vision of developing human resources in the near future.”
For Korean companies, the politically stable UAE is also a geographically strategic hub in the Middle East.
“The opportunities are becoming larger and larger in Africa, northern Africa, central Asia, and the UAE is in the center of that,” said Kwon Tae-Kyun, South Korean ambassador to the UAE. “The UAE is the most suitable place to start a business or to be used as a hub for advancing to other countries in the whole region,” he added.
About Global Exchange
Global Exchange explores how emerging markets are impacting and influencing the global financial community, at a time when business is a vital driver of the international news agenda.
Global Exchange is presented live from Abu Dhabi by emerging markets editor, John Defterios, who will be joined by CNN correspondents from around the world.
Global Exchange also includes the “GX20,” a global hotlist of some of the world’s biggest economic thinkers. The GX20 will be drawn from the key emerging markets, from across China, Russia, India and South Africa, contributing to the show and this blog.
Watch on CNN International Sunday to Thursday:
Follow the show on Twitter @CNNGlobalEx and use the #CNNGlobalEx hashtag to join the conversation.