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Liwa first began operating as a petroleum company in 1939. Due in part to the area's large petroleum sources, the company was able to grow locally. By the 1950s, Liwa had become one of the leading companies in the United Arab Emirates.
Liwa concentrated on the regional, Middle East petroleum market, however, which limited the company's international exposure.
Businessman Salah Salem Al-Shamsi opened Liwa Chem in the late 1990s, allowing Liwa to enter the chemicals industry.
In 2005, Liwa, along with American partner Occidental Petroleum, was able to win eight out of fifteen exploration areas in the EPSA-4 auction, making Liwa and Occidental among the first international petroleum companies to be allowed to operate in Libya after the lifting of the Libyan Embargo.