While the OIC champions political cooperation in the Muslim world, the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) strives for business and trade cooperation between countries in the Muslim world. The WIEF Regional Forum in Dhaka, Bangladesh on the 5-6th November 2007, will be the first attempt to revive the Southeast Asian Cooperation (SEACO) initiative, poised to be the OIC’s first regional market to increase trade intensity in the Muslim world.
The WIEF Regional Forum in Dhaka aims to create a stepping-stone to a higher level of cooperation among Muslim countries in the region. But Tun Musa Hitam, the Chairman of WIEF is aware of being too ambitious, “We are fully aware of the SEACO initiative and the efforts in materializing a regional market. But we need to always take small but sure steps. We need to get the private sector involved first before we can even consider the success of a huge project like SEACO. This is where WIEF plays its pivotal role. Get our private sector to do business with each other, and then talk about getting the government involved. This will be the main agenda for Dhaka.” The World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), the successor of the OIC Business Forum, was established in 2005 due to this very need to boost business collaboration between OIC countries, the intra-trade of which is negligibly low, at 2-3% of the world’s average.
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 the OIC is part of. Thus there is an impending need for the Muslim world to increase cooperation among the member states. “We can increase economic cooperation through the creation of a regional market comprising of a few South and Southeast Asian states in the Muslim world. Such an initiative would spur greater participation from other member states. Once we attain that level of integration, we can return to the WTO table and demand for better rights.” Salahuddin Kasem Khan, Chairman of SEACO task force added.
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 316 million, a combined GDP worth USD155.5 billion, and an average growth rate of 5% per annum.
Among the proposed speakers at the WIEF Regional Forum in Dhaka are Fakhruddin Ahmed, Chief Adviser of Bangladesh, Jusuf Kalla, the Vice President of Indonesia, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Ali, President of the Islamic Development Bank, Prof. Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, various ministers and business delegates from the SEACO region in particular, and the rest of the world.