Every time I mentioned that I was attending the 3rd World Islamic Economic Forum’s Conference, I noticed a perplexed face staring back at me. What in the world am I doing at an “Islamic” Forum?! True, I am not a your typical Islamophile – if there is a word like that! But hey I’m a true blue economist, ain’t I? (Thank God my Economics teachers don’t read this blog!)
When I first read about this Forum I was very intrigued. What was it trying achieve? Figure out the Islamic side of Economics? Or maybe teach economics to the Islamic states? Or maybe even Islam to the Economists. To my amazement, after three days in Kuala Lumpur, I figured out it was all this and much more.
Formed as an offshoot of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), the WIFE basically has the mandate to encourage trade between Islamic Ummah to benefit the member nations and at the same time find ways to lessen the dependence of the usual trading partners from the “developed” world (OECD countries).
The big picture is very interesting. For example OIC nations have 21% of the World’s population but only 5% of the global GDP. The Muslim countries give to the world 70% of its energy requirement and 40% of its raw material. Trade between OIC nations are less than 15% of their total trade compared to 70% of intra-EU trade.
The income disparity of this group is something that is very interesting as well. At one end there are rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and on the other Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali and of course my favourite Bangladesh. Some middle income countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and India (given their Muslim population makes them the third largest “Islamic” country) are doing well but still a long way to go.
These rich nations sit on trillions of dollars of petro-dollars that don’t often find useful venues of investment. The poor countries have millions of human resources that don’t have the opportunity or capital to be made productive. It doesn’t take an economist to see that by matching the two will lead increased prosperity for both.
Though trade; exchange of ideas; appreciation of each other’s needs; improvements of education; and flow of capital and labour the Muslim Ummah can achieve greater wealth and affluence for all its citizens. In a nutshell that my friend, is the basic lesson from the conference.
I hope in the near future elaborate of a few of the points that rose during the WIEF.