The D-8 Ministerial Meeting in Dhaka: Outcomes and Future

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The recent D-8 Ministerial Meeting held in Dhaka marks a significant milestone in the collaborative efforts of the Developing-8 (D-8) Organization for Economic Cooperation. This assembly of key ministers and representatives from eight member countries aimed to address pressing economic challenges and bolster sustainable development across all of them. The adoption of the Dhaka Trade Declaration, along with a dispute settlement protocol and trade facilitation strategy were the key outcomes of the recently held meeting. These not only reflect the collective resolve to enhance trade, investment, and technological cooperation but also set the stage for future strategic initiatives. However, achieving these ambitious goals is fraught with challenges with global economic instability and rising geopolitical tension in world politics. The member countries face diverse economic landscapes and varying levels of development which can complicate harmonized policy implementation. To overcome these roadblocks, member countries should continue to engage in different multilateral and bilateral settings to create mutual understanding and formulate effective policies for sustainable cooperation.

What is D-8?

The D-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation is a forum of eight major developing countries – Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Türkiye – established on June 15, 1997, with its Secretariat based in Istanbul, Türkiye. The D-8 countries command a combined GDP of about $3.8 trillion and a total population of 1.16 billion. The idea was mooted by Prof. Dr. Necmettin Erbakan, the then Prime Minister of the Republic of Türkiye in 1996. Istanbul Declaration prescribes six main principles of the group which are peace, dialogue, cooperation, justice, equity, and democracy.

The primary objectives of the D-8 are to enhance economic cooperation among member states, improve their global economic standing, diversify and create new trade opportunities, and ensure sustainable development. It also aims to increase the participation of its members in global decision-making processes, ensuring that their voices are heard in international forums. Major sectors of cooperation include trade, industry, agriculture, food security, health, energy, transportation, connectivity, and tourism.

Among the major achievements, the bloc adopted the D-8 Decennial Roadmap for 2020-2030 and the Dhaka Declaration 2021. The decennial roadmap is designed to give direction and guidance to the members of the organization in various sectoral cooperation. Under the Roadmap, the forum has initiated the D-8 Health and Social Protection Program (D-8 HSP) and Network of Pioneers for Research and Innovation (D-8 NPRI). Besides, a “Preferential Trade Agreement among D-8 Member States” was signed in Bali on May 13, 2006. The member countries constantly engage in meetings at summit, council, and commission levels to deliver and discuss important issues under the D-8 cooperation framework.

Outcomes of D-8 Ministerial Metting in Dhaka

The Third D-8 Trade Ministers Council (TMC) meeting, held in Dhaka on March 5, 2024, was a monumental event that resulted in several significant outcomes. A key outcome was the renewed commitment to the D-8 Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA). This agreement is designed to reduce tariffs and promote trade among member states. The ministers called for accelerated efforts to ensure the full implementation of the PTA across all member states. Recognizing the diverse economic landscapes of member states, the council emphasized the importance of tailored capacity-building initiatives. The D-8 Secretariat has been tasked with assessing specific needs within each member country and identifying potential sources for financing and technical assistance.

The council also adopted significant protocols and strategies. The endorsement of the Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM) protocol was integral for resolving trade disputes amicably and efficiently, providing a structured approach to handling disagreements and promoting a stable and predictable trade environment within the D-8. The ministers also adopted the Trade Facilitation Strategy (TFS). This strategy is designed to streamline trade procedures, reduce administrative barriers, and enhance the overall efficiency of trade processes, playing a critical role in boosting intra-D-8 trade by making it easier, faster, and cheaper to trade across borders.

The meeting concluded with the finalization and adoption of the Dhaka Declaration on D-8 Trade Cooperation. This declaration outlines a comprehensive action plan for future activities, emphasizing the expansion of the PTA, reduction of non-tariff barriers, and promotion of trade in services. In addition, Nigeria was elected as the next Chair of the Supervisory Committee, starting May 1, 2024. Nigeria also proposed to host the next session of the committee in Abuja in September 2024.

Future Potential of D-8

The D-8 has the potential to become the next economic powerhouse in the world, given the member countries’ rapid economic growth and burgeoning position in world politics. The group can contribute to economic integration, sustainable development, and empowering the foreign policy stance of member countries in world politics.

Economic Integration

The D-8 organization, comprising economies ranging from emerging markets to oil-rich nations, holds immense potential for deepening economic integration through trade liberalization, investment facilitation, and infrastructure development. Most of the member countries are enjoying rapid economic growth and going through economic transformation. For instance, Türkiye has recently achieved record levels in exports, experiencing a notable increase of 12.9%, while Bangladesh has maintained an average growth rate of 7% over the past few years. Despite a vast market represented by 1.16 billion people across member countries, intra-D-8 trade volume remains relatively low which was recorded at $164 billion in 2022.

Figure 1: Intra and External Trade Volume of D-8

However, there’s optimism as leaders set ambitious targets, aiming to increase intra-trade volume to meet the mandated target of at least 10% of the bloc’s global trade by 2030, with a quantitative goal of $500 billion by the same year. The D-8 holds promise for unlocking significant synergies and creating new opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs across member states. Strengthening cooperation through governmental and business-to-business levels will be crucial in achieving these goals. Moreover, D-8 should implement and utilize existing trade agreements and mechanisms such as its PTA, D-8 Payment System, Creative Economy and Financial Center, and Special Economic Zones to achieve its economic target.

Human Capital Development

Remittances from migrant workers constitute a significant source of foreign capital for many D-8 countries. For instance, Bangladesh has over $7.4 million migrant workers abroad with total remittance of $21.9 billion in 2023. Similarly, Pakistan and Indonesia have large numbers of migrant workers who send billions each year which contribute overall development of these countries. However, a common challenge faced by these migrant workers is the lack of necessary educational and technical skills, which often hampers their earning potential and limits opportunities for upward mobility. By providing access to tertiary education and vocational training programs, D-8 can empower migrant workers with the skills needed to pursue high-income jobs, thereby enhancing their economic prospects and contributing to sustainable development.

Harnessing Digital Technology

Most D-8 countries benefit from demographic dividends, with a significant portion of their populations comprised of young people. For example, the proportion of the working-age population was recorded at 65.08% in 2023. This demographic advantage presents an opportunity for the D-8 to harness the potential of its youth population, particularly in sectors with high growth potential such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT). By investing in education, skills development, and entrepreneurship programs tailored to the needs of the ICT sector, the D-8 can unlock innovation and drive economic growth. In addition, fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing among member states in the ICT sector can facilitate technology transfer and capacity building, further bolstering the region’s competitiveness in the global digital economy.

Ensuring Sustainable Development

Sustainable development within the D-8 framework includes cooperation in connectivity, energy, health, and food security. Investing in transportation networks and digital connectivity can boost economic growth and trade among member countries, with the D-8 aiming to increase intra-trade volume to at least 10% of the bloc’s global trade by 2030. Prioritizing renewable energy sources is emphasized to diminish reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change, particularly considering the vulnerability of D-8 countries to such impacts, which incur significant costs annually. Improving healthcare infrastructure and access to essential services is significant, as all the countries faced severe healthcare challenges during COVID-19. Addressing food security challenges remains a priority. The establishment of the D-8 Research Centre for Agriculture and Food Security in 2023 highlights the commitment to innovation in agricultural resource management. The group is closely consulting with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability within the D-8 community.

Strengthening South-South Cooperation

Except for Türkiye, all D-8 member countries are considered part of the Global South. The D-8 can leverage its collective diplomatic weight to amplify the voices of developing countries on the global stage. By advocating for fairer trade regulations and addressing systemic inequalities, the D-8 can champion policies that prioritize the needs of developing countries, fostering a more inclusive international order. Moreover, by fostering robust collaboration among member nations, the D-8 can facilitate knowledge exchange and mutual support, enabling countries to overcome shared challenges and pursue sustainable development pathways.

Turkish Leadership Role in Strengthening the Voice of Muslim-majority Countries

All member countries of the D-8 share a common characteristic: they have predominantly Muslim populations and are also members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Türkiye, in particular, assumes a leadership role in amplifying the voices of Muslim-majority nations globally. Its rich historical and cultural heritage positions Türkiye as a bridge between East and West, offering valuable insights to navigate complex geopolitical challenges. Through diplomatic initiatives and strategic partnerships, Türkiye advocates for the rights and interests of Muslim-majority countries, bolstering their collective influence in international forums and decision-making processes. Although Secretary-General Isiaka Abdulqadir Imam asserted that the D-8 is primarily focused on economic and development cooperation, the religious identity of its member countries inevitably intersects with political dynamics. It perfectly aligns with the Turkish ambition of fostering a collective voice of Muslim nations.

However, the D-8 encounters several challenges that impede its ability to realize its full potential. One of the significant challenges facing the D-8 organization is the presence of political misunderstandings among member countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, Egypt and Türkiye, among others. These misunderstandings pose obstacles to effective cooperation and hinder the implementation of initiatives like the D-8 PTA, as only five countries have completed the necessary domestic procedures for its implementation. Another challenge lies in the limited recognition of the D-8 organization despite its existence for over 28 years, which hampers its ability to achieve widespread impact. Additionally, the organization grapples with diverse economic landscapes and varying levels of development among member countries, compounded by global economic instability and geopolitical tensions, further complicating efforts to enhance economic cooperation and foster sustainable development within the D-8 framework.

Bangladesh and D-8

Bangladesh can leverage the D-8 platform to sustain its economic growth and enhance connectivity through various strategic measures, as the country prepares to graduate as a developing nation by 2026. By diversifying its export markets and accessing new opportunities within the D-8 member countries, Bangladesh can reduce dependency on traditional trading partners, particularly in key sectors like textiles and pharmaceuticals. Participating in regional infrastructure projects and connectivity initiatives facilitated by the D-8 would improve Bangladesh’s connectivity with member nations, facilitating smoother trade flows and economic integration. Furthermore, attracting foreign direct investment and technology transfer from D-8 countries can drive industrialization and innovation, boosting Bangladesh’s economic development. Through participation in skills development programs and capacity-building initiatives within the D-8, Bangladesh can enhance its workforce capabilities, fostering sustainable growth and competitiveness. Besides, D-8 would help Bangladesh strengthen its voice on the global stage in its pursuit of protecting humanity from oppression and injustice.

Conclusion

The future of the D-8 lies in its ability to harness the collective strengths of its member countries, foster collaboration, and chart a course toward sustainable development and prosperity for all. Building a culture of trust, mutual respect, and solidarity among member countries is crucial for overcoming differences and advancing shared objectives. As the global economic landscape continues to evolve, the D-8 has an opportunity to emerge as a dynamic and influential force for positive change in the years ahead.

– Muhammad Estiak Hussain is a Former Research Assistant at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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