Muslim nations, despite quarrels, try to boost their trade ties

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

An Islamic conference on trade and economy, which opened here on Wednesday, is seen as a milestone in promoting closer ties among Muslim nations. The three-day meeting is the first for the Permanent Committee for Economic and Trade Cooperation, set up in January by the Islamic Conference Organization.

It is interesting that even nations hostile to one another - Iran and Iraq, Egypt and Libya, for example - came to the conference. Only Afghanistan and five African members did not send representatives.

However, ICO officials realize that considerable time and effort are needed to attain Islamic cooperation in commercial and economic fields. Ideas about setting up an Islamic common market or an Islamic monetary fund are considered premature and the general feeling is that modest targets must be set at this stage.

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Turkish President Kenan Evren sounded a realistic note in his opening speech: 'The work must concentrate not on what is desirable, but what is feasible.'' He recalled that the Islamic world has great economic potential, but the aim of any cooperation should not be to break away from the rest of the world.

The organization's secretary-general, Habib Chatti, also appealed for closer cooperation ''in order to defend ourselves,'' particularly because cooperation between industrialized and poor nations has been unsuccessful.

Delegates set the guidelines for economic cooperation and agreed to advise member nations to do the following:

* Exchange information on trade.

* Facilitate the movement of businessmen.

* Encourage formation of joint companies.

* Give priority to Muslims in recruiting workers.

* Consider a center for stocking of food.

* Study possibilities for a common currency system.

* Study the setting up of an import-export bank within the Islamic world.

Only a few Islamic countries are likely to take action on these proposals, analysts say. Although hostile nations sat in the same room, their representatives did not refrain from attacking each other or showing little interest in cooperating with their enemies. The Iranian envoy, for instance, objected to Egypt's participation and said that Egypt had no place in the Islamic community.

The Turkish hosts urged restraint, goodwill, and solidarity. Turkey has had a growing interest in promoting closer economic ties among Islamic nations. Its trade with the Islamic world accounts now for 50 percent of its total volume of foreign trade. Turkey has 220,000 workers in Arab countries; Turkish contractors are engaged in projects worth $15 billion in those countries.

Turkey no doubt wants to be a leader in the Islamic world, and sees this conference as an opportunity for it.

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