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Malaysia's Prime Minister Says 'Islamic Common Market' Needed

Leaders attending the World Islamic Economic Forum heard calls for increased trade and investment within the Islamic nations as part of efforts to promote economic progress.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi called on Muslim nations to work toward an Islamic Common Market by strengthening economic and business cooperation.

Mr. Abdullah, in a closing address to the World Islamic Economic Forum Monday, said the countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference often place more emphasis on trade with non-OIC states. As a result, he said, that has meant poor trade performance within the OIC.

There are 57 OIC members, but Mr. Abdullah noted their combined gross national product accounts for less than five percent of the world total. Trade within the OIC, he said, is only six- to seven-percent of total global trade.

OIC Chairman Abdullah called for business and governments to find new ways to strengthen cooperation and break down excessive bureaucracy. He said a common market could be built through regional free trade agreements.

Abdul Razak Baginda, executive director of the government-funded Malaysian Strategic Research Center, supports the idea of a common market, but warns building it would be a big job. Part of the difficulty is that the OIC members range from those that are relatively wealthy, such as Malaysia and Brunei, to some of the world's poorest nations, such as Bangladesh.

"We have to start from actually looking at countries that share certain common levels of economic development rather than the OIC in general," he suggested. "So the common market maybe a goal but how do you get Islamic countries to step up economic cooperation? I mean that in itself is a gargantuan task."

Mr. Abdul Razak says the prime minister appears to be conveying a vision of how Islamic nations can work together to develop their economies.

"More importantly [Mr. Abdullah] is advocating this civilizational approach to Islam, which looks at how Islamic countries, how Muslims can actually develop economically and compete in a globalized world," he said.

Delegates at the three-day World Islamic Economic Forum, the first held by the OIC, also debated ways to cut poverty in the member countries. They pressed for businesses in OIC nations to support investment and infrastructure projects. They also laid plans for a global Islamic businesswomen's network as well as an education trust supported by Muslim business owners.

The delegates agreed to make the forum an annual event, with the next gathering in Pakistan in 2006.