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In 1995 Saudi Aramco bought 45% in a small refinery at Thalin in north-east China. China has become the world's second-biggest oil market. Chinese crude oil imports are to exceed 2.6m b/d by 2010.

Saudi Aramco on July 8 signed an accord for the Fujian integrated mega-venture. This will consist of a refinery and an ethylene plant. Saudi Aramco's partners in this are Beijing-based Fujian Petrochemical Co. (FPC), an affiliate of China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) and ExxonMobil. Saudi Aramco and ExxonMobil each hold 25%, with the remaining 50% held by Sinopec. The project calls for doubling capacity at the existing Fujian refinery to 160,000 b/d, with sour crude feedstock to be supplied mainly by Saudi Aramco.

At the signing ceremony, Saudi Aramco's CEO Abdullah Jum'ah underlined the importance of China as an oil consumer and said his company was ready to work with Beijing to keep its economy racing along. The Wall Street Journal said the deal was valued at $3.5 bn. Jum'ah said more projects with Sinopec were in the pipeline. He told a Beijing briefing: "The partnership with Sinopec doesn't end there. We are working together to explore the feasibility of developing a new grassroots refinery in Qingdao in Shandong province. Our discussions have been very positive and we believe this refinery project would hold tremendous benefits for Sinopec and Saudi Aramco and of course for the Chinese consumer".

The Fujian project also involves a joint marketing venture to operate 600 service stations. ExxonMobil said the July deal showed major players were intent on building assets in the world's fastest-growing oil market, with the 80,000 b/d refinery in Quanzhou located in a strategic part of Fujian.

Jum'ah said: "In the past, there was porcelain, silk, spices and gold and silver [from China] that drove trans-continental commerce. Now it is the growing demand for petroleum that impacts much of the global economy, given the essential nature of energy to our modern way of life. Nowhere is that more obvious in China".

Saudi Aramco is negotiating with Sinopec for a stake in a proposed $1.2 bn refinery in eastern China and is eyeing more of such investments. Saudi Aramco aims to seal the deal by end-2005. In return for guaranteeing crude oil supply to China, Saudi Aramco may get a 20-40% stake in the 200,000 b/d plant in Shandong province due for start-up in the first half of 2007. Sinopec and local firms backed by the Shandong provincial government would together hold a controlling stake in the project. The provincial government is the driving force behind the plan in its efforts to stimulate the region's agriculture-intensive economy. Saudi Arabia, the biggest seller of crude oil to China but facing increasing competition from other Middle Eastern producers such as Oman and Iran, is most likely to be the exclusive supplier to the Qingdao refinery.

The CEO of Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC), Mohammad al-Mady, sees a big increase in Asian demand for petrochemicals, particularly in China where year-on-year economic growth is anticipated at 7-9%. China is changing the world economy. Its GDP by 2050 would reach about $45 trillion, from $1 trillion now, overtaking the US as the biggest economy in the world.

Addressing the annual general meeting of the European Petrochemicals Association (EPCA) in Vienna in late September, Mady said: "We are witnessing a shifting of the centre of economic, population and petrochemical gravity eastward. This is an epic shift and deserves the attention of all planning exercises associated with meeting future global chemical demands". SABIC will have a 1m t/y naphtha cracker in China and its presence there will be growing. Mady told the EPCA meeting: "Our main target is China. This is where the market is... We also have a growing marketing network in place, with three offices already open and a new one that will open soon". Mady believes this shift from West to East represents a major opportunity for the Middle East's, and particularly Saudi Arabia's, petrochemical industry. "The Middle East, with its hydrocarbon resources..., has become the world's most attractive location for petrochemical assets. For European petrochemical companies, it is an economic bridge to the rapidly growing Asian markets".
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Publication:APS Review Oil Market Trends
Date:Oct 17, 2005
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