The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations spread over four continents. The organisation is the collective voice of the Muslim world which endeavours to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony. The annual session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of OIC is the meeting of the Foreign Ministers where member states express their positions and views, and take decisions on matters of mutual interest to the Muslims around the world.
The 45th Session of the OIC-CFM with the theme of "Islamic Values for Sustainable Peace, Solidarity and Development" is going to be held on 05-06 May 2018 in Dhaka. This is the second time that Bangladesh is hosting a CFM after holding the first one in 1983. With the 45th CFM in Dhaka, chairmanship of the CFM will pass from incumbent Cote d'Ivoire to Bangladesh for the next one year until the holding of the next CFM.
WORLD ISLAMIC ECONOMIC FORUM (WIEF): The World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), the successor of the OIC Business Forum, was established in 2005 in view of the need to boost business collaboration among OIC countries, the intra-trade of which is negligibly low at 2-3 per cent of the world's average.
The idea of forming WIEF was mooted in the Declaration of the 1st OIC Business Forum in October, 2003, held in conjunction with the 10th Islamic Summit Conference. The Declaration says: "We call on the 10th Islamic Summit Conference to urgently constitute a "Group of Experts" as resolved by the 9th Islamic Summit, Doha and the IDB to finance the holding of the meeting of the "Group of Experts" from the proposed Member States, which will recommend the modus operandi for systematically realising the Sub-Regional Cooperation Arrangement and report progress to the 11th OIC Summit."
Regional and sub-regional co-operation among OIC member states is a priority area for achieving intra-Islamic commercial and economic integration. The Plan of Action and the Dakar Declaration of the Sixth Islamic Summit had also resolved to strengthen measures in this regard.
Concurrently, a number of OIC Member states have developed various structured regional co-operation arrangements such as the Arab Common Market (ACM), Arab Magreb Union (UMA), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), West African Economic Community (CEMAO), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab Co-operation Council (ACC), and Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO). However, there is no framework for similar institutional co-operation or socio-economic cooperation among OIC Countries in the South and South-East Asian Region.
The urgency of regional cooperation among OIC countries must be understood in the context of failed talks at the WTO level in concluding fair trade terms for developing countries. Developed countries in the West are adamant to impose strict restrictions on market access for the developing world, in which OIC member countries constitute an important part. Thus there is an immediate need for the Muslim world to increase cooperation among the member states.
WIEF REGIONAL FORUM IN DHAKA, BANGLADESH: While the OIC champions political cooperation in the Muslim World, the WIEF strives for business and trade cooperation among countries in the Muslim world. The Inaugural Conference of the World Islamic Economic Forum, October, 2005 held in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, resolved: "The World Islamic Economic Forum, calls on the Governments of Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Maldives to call a Preparatory Meeting of the Trade Ministers and the Private Sectors of this region, with the IDB, ICDT and ICCI to give effects to the SEACO Resolutions of the 24th, 28th 29th ICFM's and the 9th Islamic Summit, 2002, Doha within a time bound process. The World Islamic Economic Forum further believes that establishment of a Sub-regional FTA in South and South East Asia through the formation of South East Asian Cooperation (SEACO) Forum will complete the building blocks towards laying the foundation of the Islamic Free Trade Area (IFTA) and the future edifice of the Islamic Common market."
The 2nd WIEF, held in Islamabad in November, 2006, further resolved to: "Accelerate Regional and Sub-Regional Cooperation leading to the establishment of an Islamic Free Trade Area (IFTA)."
Thereafter in the 6th WIEF, held in Kuala Lumpur in 2010, Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia stated: "We need to think anew and more beyond our conventional framework. This may require a new economic model for the region -if necessary, that is designed to meet the specific needs of the Muslim World. "
In line with the above Declarations and Statements from the OIC summit leaders, the SEACO should bring about desired integration among the participating states in this region.
After the OIC Foreign Ministers' Conference (Dhaka May 5-6, 2018), the SEACO Forum is contemplating to hold a WIEF Regional Forum in Dhaka, preferably in January 2019, which will be the first attempt to revive the SEACO initiative, poised to be the OIC's first regional market to increase trade intensity in the Muslim world. This Regional Common Market could be a bridge between SAARC and ASEAN, with 2 OIC countries currently members of SAARC and three of ASEAN. If successful, this Regional Common Market could ultimately be replicated in other OIC regions worldwide. The Forum will highlight areas of potential public-private sector collaboration and joint ventures as a step by step approach towards establishing a "SEACO-FTA" under OIC Framework, having a market of nearly 400 million consumers. It will be an attempt to articulate strategies for the stakeholders of this region to lay out a comprehensive road map to achieving the objective of consolidating OIC regional economic cooperation.
Experts in regional economic development expect that the WIEF Regional Forum in Dhaka will create a stepping-stone for cooperation among Muslim countries in the region. If SEACO is brought into being comprising Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Maldives, it will encompass an area of 2.5 million square miles, a population of approximately 460 million, a combined GDP worth US$ 4.517 trillion,, and an average growth rate of 6+ per cent per annum.
A SEACO regional economic cooperation arrangement would thus go a long way in removing the impediments to trade and investment and connectivity within the South East Asian Region and provide a viable framework for the countries to fully explore their complementarities in trade, investment, energy, logistics, connectivity and manpower exchanges.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid is former Secretary to the Government of Bangladesh and former Chairman of South East Asian Federation of Exchanges.
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