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Originally published October 29, 2013 at 5:53 AM | Page modified October 29, 2013 at 7:13 AM

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UK PM unveils plans for Islamic Market Index

Prime Minister David Cameron is taking strides to tap the burgeoning interest in Islamic finance, announcing the launch of a new Islamic Market Index in London and plans for Britain to be the first non-Muslim country to issue an Islamic bond.


Associated Press

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LONDON —

Prime Minister David Cameron is taking strides to tap the burgeoning interest in Islamic finance, announcing the launch of a new Islamic Market Index in London and plans for Britain to be the first non-Muslim country to issue an Islamic bond.

Describing London as "already the biggest center for Islamic finance outside the Islamic world," Cameron said Tuesday that the U.K.'s ambition is to go further.

"I don't just want London to be a great capital of Islamic finance in the Western world," he told an audience of international political and business leaders in London. "I want London to stand alongside Dubai as one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the World."

The market in Islamic investments has grown quickly since 2006, and its value is expected to hit 1.3 trillion pounds ($2 trillion) next year. Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, is regarded as its hub, but London has been courting the industry aggressively.

Cameron made a case for mutual benefits in his address Tuesday at the World Islamic Economic Forum, which for the first time is being held in a non-Muslim country.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are among the nearly 1,800 political and business leaders attending the meeting.

"Investing in London is good for you and opening London up to your investment is good for us," he said, pointing to a British history of commitment to free trade.

"There are some countries whose instincts sometimes incline towards pulling up the drawbridge... Britain will not make that mistake."

Islamic finance conforms to Islamic law, or Shariah, which forbids charging interest and requires deals to be based on tangible assets. Speculation is banned, as is dealing in futures. Although still small compared with the world of mainstream finance, Islamic finance is expected to hold growing appeal for Gulf investors seeking to invest oil revenue or pious Muslims who want retail Islamic banking services.

The London index -- which would track the ups-and-downs of Shariah-compliant investments -- is being launched on the London Stock Exchange. Cameron also said plans are underway to make Britain the first country outside of the Muslim world to issue an Islamic bond. It is expected to be worth around 200 million pounds and issued next year.

"For years people have been talking about creating an Islamic bond - or sukuk - outside the Islamic world. But it's never quite happened," Cameron said. "Changing that is a question of pragmatism and political will. And here in Britain we've got both."

Alex Conroy, a trader at Spreadex, said that the U.K.'s effort to diversify business could be seen as a way to stay competitive in the finance world as Britain faces the prospect of caps on bankers' bonuses.

"By welcoming all foreign investment this should ensure London remains a leader in global finance," he said in a note.

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Follow Cassandra Vinograd at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd



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