The words need to be matched by resultoriented actions

Mar 08 - 14, 2004



Islamic Chamber of Commerce & Industry has been making a lot of efforts to enhance co-operation among the Muslim countries. H. E. Aqeel Al-Jassem, Secretary General of the Chamber is considered the key propagator of concept of Islamic Common Market. Following are excerpts from an exclusive interview with him.

The formation of Islamic Common Market has become quite a sensitive issue among Islamic countries, due to its implications for internal rules and regulations enforced in these countries affecting investment, trade and other aspects of economic activities. Beside this, several Islamic countries have bilateral and multilateral commitments regarding their trade regulations and fixation of tariff arrived with other non-OIC countries. The 8th Islamic Summit, held in Tehran - Islamic Republic of Iran in 1997 issued several judicious directives, inviting Members States to endeavor to reinforce sub-regional and regional economic groupings and re-launch the existing economic integration projects among Islamic countries and prepare a methodology of establishing an Islamic Common Market or any other form of economic integration among themselves.

These decisions were taken for the first time at the highest level of policy making in the Organization of Islamic Conference. The Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry were discussing these issues of Islamic countries economic integration of private sector at various conferences and occasions since 1981. I am of the opinion that the establishment of 'Islamic Common Market' would provide a common economic platform for the Muslim countries to put their collective potentials and strengths, thereby making them a stronger force economically and politically to help each other and at the same time face the challenges of globalization. The Islamic countries stand a chance of being marginalized in the wake of economic trends of globalization and the various agreements of the WTO, if timely action is not taken to evolve a common strategy that would, to some extent, safeguard the interests of the OIC countries.

An overall economic review of the 57 Islamic countries, shows that they cover about 28 percent of the world's land area, comprising over 1.3 billion people, which is 21.2 percent of the world's population. Islamic countries have tremendous economic potentials, they possess 70 percent of the oil and account for 40 percent of the world's export of raw materials. However, this enormous potential has not yet been properly harnessed and exploited due to numerous constraints, particularly the financial resources, requisite institutions, modern technology and political will, among other things. Islamic countries have not been able to reach the level of economic development that they are capable of. Hence, I feel that the establishment of an Islamic Common Market would provide them the ground to meet with countries having similar levels of economic development and this would then enable them to evaluate their needs and help each other. Furthermore, I feel we can learn from the experiences of the various blocs within the Islamic World, such as the Grand Arab Trade Free Zone, which groups the Arab countries. I believe and as a matter of fact we have, put this idea of making a link between the Arab Trade Free Zone and the Islamic Common Market so as to learn from their experiences and help each other to meet our objectives.

In any given situation, one is faced with opportunities, which give the incentive to move ahead and along with that come the challenges. As far as the opportunities are concerned, first we belong to the OIC group, a group of 57 Islamic countries. Secondly, we have a market for a population of 1.3 billion and third immense natural resources, which provide basic raw materials for the industry. But unfortunately these opportunities have not been tapped to yield the benefit they could. The reason being lack of information about the existing potentials in the OIC countries. The challenges before us is to prepare the Islamic Ummah on a sound economic base. We need to start from the basic economic needs of these countries, which would enable them to have a certain level of commonalties to interact.

Once the Islamic Common Market is established, I think the OIC countries could look towards being a powerful economic bloc. Right now, the OIC countries, which are coming within the category; of "developing countries" are about to be marginalized in the face of the new economic trends, such as globalization and the WTO Agreements. But, I think once the OIC countries make a strong economic bloc and speak from this platform as a one voice, then perhaps the developed countries would view them differently. Here I would also like to mention that realizing the potentials existing within the Islamic World the European Union, is showing interest in expanding their economic ties. In addition, we see that China, has had good ties for a long time with the Islamic countries and then we have the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who came to the 10th Islamic Summit in Malaysia in October 2003 and spoke about Russian interest to strengthen their ties with the Islamic World.



I think a lot of talk has been made and now these words need to be matched by sincerity of political will and the need to understand that the OIC countries have to collectively work for their economic and social upliftment.

The concept of an Islamic Common Market, as you will understand, needs a lot of careful preparation in stages. First of all, we need to develop the level of intra-Islamic trade, which currently is at 13 percent. Then, we need to evaluate the economic base of the countries, since the OIC countries have a diverse level of economic development. An important progress made in this direction is that during the 19th Session of the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC) held in October 2003 in Istanbul the Framework Agreement on Trade Preferential System among OIC Member States (TPSOIC) has entered into force following the ratification by the required number of Member States, namely 13. The early and effective implementation of TPSOIC will enhance trade follows and strengthen trade liberalization that will boost economic growth.

Having said this, I would like to add that the Islamic Chamber through its activities and programmes has been able to create awareness among the Islamic countries about each other's potentials. Such activities are the holding of the Private Sector Meetings, Investment and Privatization Conferences, holding of exhibitions and exchange of economic delegations. The Islamic Chamber also supports the idea of setting up Free Trade Zones in those countries where they don't exist.

As I have mentioned earlier, a lot of appeals, calls have been made by the OIC countries at all their Meetings and Conferences. The last one being the 10th Islamic Summit, which was held in Putra-Jaya, Malaysia in October 2003. The level of willingness is put across with full sincerity, but as I said these words now need to be matched by result-oriented actions, which I hope will be there very soon.


The Seventh Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers held in May 1976, in Istanbul Turkey put forward the idea of establishing the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The idea was approved by the First Conference of Chambers of Commerce and Industry held in October 1977 in Istanbul (Turkey), after which its constitution was adopted by the second Conference of Chambers of Commerce and Industry held in December 1978 in Karachi - Pakistan. By virtue of this resolution, Islamic Chamber was established with its Headquarters located in Karachi.

Islamic Chamber's main role is to assist the entrepreneurs of OIC countries to develop capacities for sustainable industrial and trade development and promotion to mitigate possible marginalization due to negative impact of globalization, technology gaps and barriers to trade and industrialization. Specific emphasis are given for the improvement of industrial development strategies, industrial support infrastructures, access to markets and finance. ICCI's corporate strategy is to focus on activities that help to develop a competitive economy and promote environmentally sustainable trade and industrial development. The activities include provision of training courses and extending advisory services, information and technology, investment promotion, trade promotion, small enterprises development, expansion of services sector, awareness of privatization programmes and promotion of clean technologies. Islamic Chamber identifies its programmes of operation under the framework of three year Plan of Action, within the overall framework of the OIC Plan of Action for economic and social development of Member Countries.