London aims to become top destination for Islamic finance

LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday London aims to become a top capital of Islamic finance as the city played host to the first World Islamic Forum outside the Muslim world.

"Already, London is the biggest centre for Islamic finance outside the Islamic world. And today our ambition is to go further still," Mr Cameron told more than 1,800 political and business leaders at the ninth forum, dubbed the "Davos of the Muslim world".

"I don't just want London to be a great capital of Islamic finance in the Western world. I want London to stand alongside Dubai and Kuala Lumpur as one of the great capitals of Islamic Finance anywhere in the world," he said. "Investing in London is good for you and opening London up to your investment is good for us."

More than 20 British banks currently offer Islamic financial products, while 49 Islamic bonds - called sukuks - with a total value of US$34 billion (S$42.1 billion), have been listed over the last five years on the London Stock Exchange. But Mr Cameron aims to expand well beyond this.

"When Islamic finance is growing 50 per cent faster than traditional banking and when global Islamic investments are set to grow to 1.3 trillion pounds (S$2.6 trillion) by 2014, we want to make sure a big proportion of that new investment is made here in Britain."

As part of realising his ambitions, Mr Cameron announced a new "Islamic Index" on the London Stock Exchange and revealed plans for Britain to release an Islamic bond.

"This means the creation of a new way of identifying Islamic finance opportunities - a world-leading Islamic Market Index," he explained.

The index will identify companies that meet traditional Islamic investment principles. A foundation of Islamic investment is that it should be structured on the exchange of ownership or real assets, with money being used only as a method of payment.

Islamic financial principles also prohibit the payment of interest, so Islamic bonds pay investors a fixed return based on the profit generated by an underlying asset.