South East Asian Cooperation (SEACO)
The idea of South East Asian Cooperation (SEACO) has come from OIC’s focus and discourse on regional economic integration reflected in a number of OIC CFM resolutions and stressed in OIC Summits since nineties. The concept has been referred to in specific terms in the 24th CFM, Qatar, 2000 as its resolution No. 6/24-E called on OIC Member States “to reinforce Sub-Regional and Regional Markets and re-launch the existing economic integration projects among themselves” and in its operative para 1 reiterated the need for “economic integration, on a step by step basis, among OIC Member States” and commended “the efforts” “to create” “initiative namely, ECO, SEACO, ECOWAS, CEMAC and CEMAO” in the context of the ultimate OIC goal of establishing an Islamic Common Market. Other regional oganisations for economic cooperation like Arab Magreb Union (UMA), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab Cooperation Council (ACC), and Arab Common Market (ACM) also evolved with similar objectives.
- There existed no regional organization or platform for economic cooperation involving geographically disjointed OIC Member States like Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Maldives. SEACO, as conceived, may fill in the void. SEACO got endorsement in other CFMs as well in different forms and mentions after the idea was moved in the INDO-IDB Seminar held in Bandung (11-18 December, 1992) and chaired by Former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie with the President of IDB as the co-chair. The IDB remains generally supportive of the idea since then demonstrated even in its President’s 2009 letter.
- The SEACO issue has support fromHon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinawhich was indicated when a delegation led by Mr. Tun Musa Hitham, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of WIEF met her while visiting Dhaka to attend a SEACO sponsored Roundtable in 2012. SEACO Foundation in Bangladesh has been promoting the concept of SEACO of five OIC Member States in the region as they are not in any OIC grouping for economic cooperation.
- SEACO envisions itself as a private sector led initiative with the government providing the relevant policy support, necessary instruction, guidance and patronization. Private sector will be the major stakeholder in this initiative. SEACO will act as a bridge among the private sector trade bodies of the member countries to explore new areas of cooperation, partnership, investment and business. It will act as a forum where the business communities will share their ideas, resolve their differences, make stronger connections and expand their business horizon. Most importantly, SEACO will act as a negotiation and bargaining platform for the Trade Bodies of the member countries.
- SEACO is profoundly interested in PPP framework. It also seeks to have the moral patronage of the governments of the member countries, while it retains its active association and linkage with the WIEF based in Kuala Lumpur. Its objectives and goals would be similar to and in conformity with those of the OIC as the platform may wish to involve both Muslim countries and Muslim communities in the region.
- The memorandum and Modus Operandi of SEACO will be formulated primarily by the trade bodies of the member countries. The government sector may put forward some proposals and guidance regarding it. But the private sector will make the final call. The private sector bodies of the member countries will form a robust intra network so that their combined interest is preserved and followed.
- These initiatives could also include Muslim minority communities in the region notably, Indian as well as other ASEAN states having sizable Muslim communities, as it would remain non-political. Therefore, feasible and more convenient format of SEACO could be a Track-1.5 / Track-2 one, more agile, less cumbersome having only a coordinating office in Dhaka and functioning like a forum, like its bigger version- WIEF.
- Formation of SEACO, would hopefully ensure steady growth and economic benefits for the Muslims in SEACO region with greater development impact, since the regional projects of multimodal connectivity, maritime connectivity, maritime tourism (e.g. ocean cruise) with direct cargo services, mega investments in key sectors could be taken up and implemented in a better environment of trust and Islamic solidarity.
- SEACO is also likely to draw attention of and substantial support from OIC institutions like IDB under its special programme similar to ones in place-SPDA (Special Programme on Development of Africa) and SPCA (Special Programme on Central Asia). Also SEACO would be better placed in giving reality to OIC dream of FTA and an Islamic Common Market (mooted by Bangladesh) in the most practicable building block manner. Economic integration of this region could bring not only enhanced economic dividends but also grater political concert of the countries involved through intensified Track-1.5 / Track-2 cooperation and understanding at the P.2.P level
- The SEACO Forum may be formally launched through a Conference in Dhaka. Its working mechanism and modalities will evolve as per the requirements of the specific context in which it would be operating. It will be a private sector-led Track II initiative with concrete outcomes and visible results on the ground at private sector level which would forge stronger bonds of cooperation across trade investment capacity building, service lines and the institutions. The modus operandi would be determined by the needs of the industry and sectors and also the comfort of the governments involved. SEACO would largely follow WIEF model at regional scale and would remain linked with WIEF platform and make use of the linkage for organizational purposes. SEACO would work under enlightened patronage and facilitation of the governments of the countries in question that would provide guidance and instill necessary confidence to the national chapters of the Forum/platform.