Saudi Aramco is looking to expand its investments in refining and petrochemicals to secure new markets for its crude, and has identified growth in chemical industries as strategic in combating the risk of a slowdown in oil demand, Reuters reported.

Abdulaziz al-Judaimi, Aramco’s senior vice president for downstream, said that the state-run company has multi-billion dollar investments in Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian markets, and is aiming to finalize further partnerships this year.

Aramco’s plans include raising its refining capacity to between 8 and 10 million barrels per day (b/d), up from its current capacity of around 5 million b/d.

“We are going forward by trying to be a top leader in chemicals by 2040,” Judaimi said.

“The market that we want to grow in … has to be growing, a strong market, with good demand and of course these assets have to be integrated to the whole value chain of the downstream,” he continued.

Aramco has entered into a 50% joint venture with three Indian refiners to build a $44 billion, 1.2 million b/d refinery and petrochemical facility on the west coast of India.

Judaimi said that Aramco has been working with Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) on a strategic partnership, the first time both national oil companies are working together on an international venture.

“We are now finalising the memorandum of understanding (MoU) [with ADNOC] that would cover certain commercial principles between us,” Judaimi said, adding that the MoU should be finalized this year and that front-end engineering for the project could start by early 2019.

Aramco’s ventures in Malaysia include a 50% stake in the state-owned Petronas project, RAPID, in the state of Johor.

India, Malaysia, and China – the world’s three fastest growing oil markets – present bigget investment opportunities for Aramco. Jadaimi said that Aramco is looking towards three separate refining and petrochemical projects in China alone.

Aramco has entered a joint venture with Chinese state-owned Sinopec and US oil major Exxon Mobil, and is in talks with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNCP) to acquire a stake in a 260,000 b/d refinery in Yunnan. Judaimi stated that he expects a final decision on the Yunnan refinery by the end of the year.

Aramco also plans to build a 300,000 b/d refinery with China’s Norinco, with Judaimi stating that he expects front-end engineering to be completed on the Norinco project by mid-2019, following which the company will take its final investment decision.

Judaimi alluded to a third refinery in China currently being negotiated, stating only that “it’s a smart refinery with a higher conversion of liquids into chemicals.”

“Asia has to have the lion’s share… we believe markets east of the Suez Canal will continue to grow, including the Middle East as well,” Judaimi said, identifying the US as “another market we want to grow in”.

In April 2018, Aramco announced that it will integrate its petrochemical business with its US-based subsidiary Motiva, the operator of the Port Arthur refinery in Texas – the biggest oil refinery in the US.

Aramco has been expanding its global downstream ventures ahead of its upcoming initial public offering, set to be the largest in history.