Islamic trade body pivots from oil to soil to help fight pandemic

Hani Salem Sonbol

RIYADH (RAHNUMA) A Saudi-based trade finance group is re-purposing funding to help countries across the Islamic world meet challenges created by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), a unit of the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, was set up to boost trade and improve living conditions across the Islamic world.

While in the past, the organization helped countries fund oil supplies, securing food imports is now becoming more important for some states in lockdown, according to CEO Hani Sonbol.

“Repurposing is very important to meet demands,” he told Arab News. “We classify COVID-19 as the worst crisis mankind has seen. The implications will be huge.”

With 57 member countries, the ITFC is stepping up its initiative dubbed “the three R’s” — Response, Rebuild, Relaunch.

Sonbol said the organization was now busy with the response phase — financing medical supplies and food in a $300 million package.

That is expected to scale up as it moves into the Rebuild and Relaunch phases.

He added that many ITFC initiatives were being realigned to meet urgent trade finance needs.

“We have seen many integrated projects now are more into helping the member countries, providing medical supplies and knowledge sharing on how to really respond, from a medical point of view, to COVID-19 issues,” he said.

Looking forward, Sonbol said Islamic finance would play an important role in rebuilding economies and that its core philosophy of safeguarding human life made it well suited for the task.

“The ethical purposes of Islamic finance are very clear. Institutions should really think about how the future will look,  and try to see how to become relevant.”

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