By Assad Bhuglah

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In 1997, eight leading Islamic countries with similar development levels, including Turkey, founded the Developing Eight Organization (D-8) to improve their respective positions in the world economy, create new opportunities in trade relations, become more influential in international decision-making mechanisms and raise life standards. Twenty years ago, a shared vision motivated the leaders of D-8 countries to establish this organisation to promote cooperation in the key areas of agriculture, industry, small and medium-sized enterprises, trade, transport, energy and tourism. However, the progress achieved so far falls short of their expectations.

The 9th D-8 summit titled, "Expanding Opportunities through Cooperation," was held in Istanbul on 20th October of this year. It was attended by various world leaders including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Iran's First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and Indonesia’s Vice President, Jusuf Kalla. The D-8 organization was formed in 1997 after then-Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's proposal to create an economic group consisting of eight emerging economies from the Muslim world, namely Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. Since its establishment, the D-8 has held nine summits. Istanbul hosted the recent summit to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group. The D-8 is opening itself to more members.

 President Erdoğan, in his keynote address stated that collaborating around the cherished ideals of peace, dialogue, justice, democracy and ending violence, the D-8 can stand against confrontation, hypocrisy, exploitation, discrimination and oppression. Turkey's desire to transform the D-8 into an effective international organization with real clout was reflected in Erdoğan's suggestion to cooperate and support African countries suffering from hunger and terrorism.

The cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) of D-8 countries is $3.7 billion as of 2017, with a total population of over 1 billion, 15 percent of the global population. Turkey and Indonesia are also members of the G20 – a group of the world's 20 biggest economies. Pakistan is a Nuclear power while Iran is on the verge of achieving it. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population, while Nigeria is a regional power in West Africa. If the D-8 countries succeed in conducting their trade ties in their own currencies, it would be a major sign of independence and an incredible symbol of economic cooperation. With young, dynamic populations, efficient and growing productive capacities, the D-8 has members that are working to become important global actors. However, the traditional powers of the West are playing all sorts of tricks to keep the less fortunate down. In the current global economic system, it is very hard for many countries to achieve the economic leap from developing to developed status. Figures indicate that only 13 countries out of 101 were able to shatter the glass ceiling that keep them down and risie to developed status between 1960 and 2008. Among the strategies used by Western forces to keep others down is to sow ethnic and sectarian violence and support proxy wars. The D-8 countries need to band together and develop their own strategies to counter threats and overcome the traps of economic retardation. Their economic development would necessitate investments in education, human resources and technology while following fiscal and monetary discipline. They also have to introduce alternative strategies like trading in local currencies to increase efficiency and make a difference.

To facilitate the use of national currencies as a medium of exchange in trade, Erdoğan emphasized the necessity for member states to bring together their central banks and establish a clearing house. The president urged the D-8 countries to increase participation in meetings, embrace the values of the D-8 and work to boost its productivity and strength. Using national currencies in bilateral trades between D-8 countries will help them to minimize the effects of volatile currency rates.

In order to unleash its full potential, Erdoğan said it is necessary to alleviate visa and customs procedures, adding that preferential trade agreements are necessary for the facilitation of more trade. In case these agreements are ratified and executed by all members, the trade volume of the D-8 could exceed $500 billion. Its trade volume is currently $100 billion. The D-8 preferential trade agreement came into force for Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey last year. These six countries have completed all internal procedures for the implementation of the PTA. However, the Bangladesh is still working on ratification as it waits for the resolution of rules of origin issue. Egypt maintained its reservation concerning 40pc value added criterion adopted previously by the majority of the states. Bangladesh's ambassador to Ankara, M. Allama Siddiki, emphasized Turkey's role in D-8 economic cooperation, especially in science, engineering and infrastructure.

The ninth D-8 summit adopted the Istanbul Declaration 2017 and the D-8 Istanbul Plan of Action, reaffirming the group’s commitments to establish peace, democracy, and solidarity among the member states. In the declaration, the D-8 leadership took stock of progress in various fields, including energy and economy, while expressing mutual hope that implementation of development projects and programmes would make the partnership visible and tangible to the people of the member states.

At the Summit, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, the outgoing chair of D-8, handed over the chairmanship of the organisation to Turkey. The D-8 is still a young organization that has been in existence for just 20 years. Yet, it has made giant strides toward playing a major role in the global economic arena. However, the challenges ahead are enormous. Given the dynamic nature of international economic relations, the D-8 needs to redouble its efforts to increase the density of traffic and volume of interactions between and among its members with a view to fostering economic cooperation and development. It also needs to increase public awareness of the organization and its activities, first and foremost within the D-8 community and subsequently on a larger scale, and it needs to expand liaison and cooperation with other economic and regional groupings and multilateral institutions. These will enable the organization to project itself effectively at the international level and play the bigger role that it deserves.