Woori Bank, one of the oldest banks in South Korea, has laid further foundations in the Middle East.

Woori, part of South Korea’s largest banking conglomerate Woori Financial Group, which is 56% owned by the South Korean government, focuses on commercial banking and investment banking services.

Presently, it has more than 1,000 domestic and 15 international branches, among them in China, India, Japan, US, UK, Russia and is one of the few foreign banks having been allowed to open a representative office in North Korea. Currently, the bank has a branch in Bahrain and opened another in Dubai earlier in June this year. More branches in the Middle East and Africa are said to be in the planning.

To expand in the Middle East, Woori Bank is partnering with Emirates NBD with whom it entered a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last year to strengthen trade partnerships of South Korean companies with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries and to “provide comprehensive banking services to South Korean business entities [in the region]”, as Woori Bank’s CEO and chairman Lee Soon-woo explained.

The MoU is designed to encourage “smoother business operations” for South Korean firms in the UAE and the rest of the Gulf Co-operation Council region, the banks said in a statement earlier this year.

Commenting at the signing ceremony, Rich Pudner, group chief executive at Emirates NBD, added: “The MoU will further offer an end to end platform to conduct increased levels of trade flows between the GCC and South Korea.”

Recent economic statistics were cited by the firms as reasons why the agreement will benefit both sides. Last year, trade between the UAE and South Korea grew by 21% to a record US26.6bn, with UAE being South Korea’s largest export market in the Middle East.

While UAE exports are dominated by oil, the country is the fourth-largest exporter of crude oil to Korea. Moreover, South Korean firms are currently important participants in many key projects in the UAE, from energy to the enhancement of the UAE’s infrastructure.

South Korean companies have a massive presence in industrial, infrastructure, construction and oil and gas projects in the GCC region. Conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo, SK and Kepco are involved in multi-billion dollar projects in the GCC, especially in the UAE where a South Korean-led consortium won a US$20.4bn contract to build four nuclear reactors, with the first planned to go online in 2017.

In Qatar, which is the main liquefied natural gas supplier for South Korea, South Korean companies are involved in mega-projects such as the Lusail Expressway, the Barzan Gas project and the Doha Metro. It is also expected that they will be awarded big projects for the FIFA World Cup, including the building of stadiums, contracts for the new Hamad International Airport and the New Doha Port, as well as for other crucial infrastructure and construction projects.

South Korea is also interested in investing in Qatar’s free industrial zones and in the expansion of Qatar’s gas tanker fleet by delivering South Korean-made vessels to Qatar, according to the Qatar Financial Centre Authority.