Southeast Asian Cooperation (SEACO) is conceived as a sub-regional initiative - connecting the countries in South and Southeast Asia - within the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) framework - for eventually creating a free trade area where trade, technology, investment, finance and skills are shared and leveraged amongst the member states.
It is a private sector and track-II level Forum with an objective of advancing regional economic integration. At this moment - the member states include Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Maldives.
The Forum is going to function in the model of World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) exclusively with the agenda of economic cooperation among the member countries and their neighborhoods.
Bangladesh has taken the initiative and ready to host SEACO’s launching conference in Dhaka towards the end of June 2019 with expected participation of the Foreign Ministers along with the public and private stakeholders.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam has already visited Malaysia and Indonesia and had fruitful discussion with relevant counterparts in support of the initiative called SEACO. Senior corporate leaders from the country were also included in the delegation.
Result of more than two decades of negotiations at the Islamic Conference - SEACO is crystallising in shape under the enlightened leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as its chief patron, according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It has a combined consumer market of more than four hundred million and a workforce of close to two hundred million. It is spread across an area of 2.3 million square kilometres.
With a combined GDP (on PPP basis) of $1.5 trillion, the current trade stands at a volume of $770 billion. The average GDP growth rate ranges between 4.6% to 6% per annum with Bangladesh currently leading at the top with 8.3%, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The SEACO initiative is aimed towards creating public-private synergies across infrastructure, energy, capital markets, banking, tourism, food security, manufacturing and logistics and various sectors of the blue economy.
One of the core areas under intense focus at the SEACO is education and skills development - so that the human resource potentials of the member states could be magnified and harnessed constructively.
This is very much in line with the economic diplomacy focus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Dr AK Abdul Momen as the Foreign Minister and Md. Shahriar Alam at the Minister of State.
The need for strengthening regional socio-economic cooperation has never been greater. The creation of the SEACO will hopefully bring about the desired integration among the participating states.