City Matters: Cementing ties with the Islamic world should be a key priority for London

Roger Gifford
LATER this month, London will play host to the first World Islamic Economic Forum to be held outside the Islamic world.

This singular event reflects the increasingly strong partnership that the UK wishes to build with the Islamic world, and also London’s role as a centre for Islamic finance – a global market worth around $1.3 trillion (£814bn) in financial assets at the end of last year. Cementing these ties was a major theme of the recent City business delegation to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Burma.

These fast-growing markets should all be on the radar of City firms looking to export their services, even though each country is currently at a very different stage in its development. The establishment of the free trade ASEAN Economic Community, expected in 2015, will likely create new opportunities for both domestic and international institutions, by fostering competition and lowering the costs of doing business.

Both Malaysia and Indonesia are already open to investment, with some resounding British successes – not least Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC, which have both been present in the region for many decades.

Malaysia is a fast rising economic power for Britain, as recognised by David Cameron’s visit there last year. It is also evident in the number of significant investments made by Malaysian companies in the UK in recent times. These have included the long-awaited redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, as well as the London Array wind farm in the Thames Estuary off the coast of Kent.

The same endorsement can be given to Indonesia. Both Britain and Indonesia pledged to double trade during the recent visit of the Indonesian President to London, and City firms have an important role in meeting this target. British companies have already built many local business relationships that are integral to supporting the future economic prospects of the UK, and to helping Indonesia deliver sustainable growth as it rises to the challenge of a young, fast-growing population.

Burma is at a much earlier stage of development, but very open to British firms willing to make the commitment. The UK-Burma Financial Services Task Force is an excellent example of collaboration that should benefit international investors and the Burmese economy. How to develop the financial services industry was a major part of our discussions covering education, training, insurance, banking and legal services in particular.

Of course, business ties are not all we share. Britain is an important cultural destination, with this openness and vibrancy highlighted by the huge variety of cultural festivals that take place here, including one for Malaysia held last month.

On 29 to 31 October, the World Islamic Economic Forum will provide an opportunity for leading City firms and figures to explore the many opportunities presented by working with their counterparts in these markets. I hope to see many of you there.

Roger Gifford is lord mayor of the City of London.