Secretary-general of D-8 discusses future plans of 23-year-old economic group ahead of Dhaka summit
Creation of “Developing-8” (D-8) countries was meant to be a unifying factor for its members, the secretary-general of the organization has said.
The organization was meant for economic cooperation among its members, eight Muslim-majority countries from West Africa to southern and eastern Asia, said Ambassador Dato’ Ku Jaafar Ku Shaari on Wednesday at a public talk hosted by Ankara-based Economic and Social Research Center (ESAM).
The bloc, established in 1997, includes Turkey, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Currently, Turkey holds the chairmanship of D-8 which rotates every two years and is set to be handed over to Bangladesh when it hosts this year’s summit in May or June.
The bloc has received huge support from Turkey in the transportation sector, Shaari said.
“Turkey has been very supportive. We have been quite successful in the civil aviation area and our renewed focus is on five new areas of cooperation, including land, rail, maritime, air, and satellite cooperation,” he said, adding that Turkey will host D-8 ministerial-level meeting on transportation sector in March.
Shaari said tourism was another sector where two of the member countries, Malaysia and Turkey, had “very active cooperation”.
“We are working on a comprehensive strategy on tourism,” he said, adding: “We have taken an initiative on tourism, and this year Nigeria will host a summit on tourism followed by Pakistan in 2021.”
In the energy sector, Shaari said they are “trying so hard to establish a mechanism”, adding that the D-8 is working with the International Renewable Energy Agency which is helping the group formulate a strategy in this sector.
Identifying trade among D-8 countries as “the most important area of cooperation,” he said: “We are encouraging member-states to sign bilaterally Free Trade Agreements [FTAs],” referring to Malaysia and Indonesia, which already signed an FTA through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
At the Dhaka Summit this year, leaders will launch “Guiding Principles of Investment” he said.
“We are currently working on a visa regime under which we are trying to persuade member countries to implement D-8 visa agreement which will make traveling easy for business people from these countries,” he also said.
Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s suggestion during the last annual summit in Istanbul, a “special card system” is now under consideration, Shaari said, adding: “The leaders will launch D-8 payment card system where we try to find a way to do business in our local currencies.
The group is also working to develop “special economic zones”, he stressed, and said Bangladesh and Indonesia have provided lands for this purpose, while a Turkish company which succeeded in such a model in Egypt, is helping the D-8.
Shaari said Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul will have a special “D-8 Cafe and Lounge”.
“We are working to establish fast track lanes for D-8 businessmen at airports in these countries and Sabiha Gokcen Airport has already agreed to do so,” he added.
Karachi and Jinnah international airports in Pakistan have also adopted similar themes. Since 2017, D-8 is “working closely” with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to achieve Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.
The group is establishing its own scientific journal while it is also creating a network of universities and researchers to help build a knowledge base. D-8 International University has already started working in Hamadan, Iran in 2019, he said.
In Pakistan, he said, the D-8 is establishing “Network of Pioneers of Research Institute” this year, and it will launch its first research center in agriculture and food security in April.
Shaari said the bloc has taken up the health sector as a “very important area”, and Nigeria will host the D-8 health secretariat for health and social security program in capital Abuja.
Media is also important in telling people about the work done, Shaari emphasized, saying: “The D-8 has agreements with media houses, including Anadolu Agency and TRT, which provide us space to share our work with people.”