"It is imperative for our countries to accelerate the process of economic and trade cooperation inside the OIC, which in turn will act as a lever ... to ensure that some of our economies are not further marginalised," OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said in Istanbul on Thursday.

  

He was speaking at the opening of the 21st annual session of the OIC's permanent Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC).

  

Ihsanoglu invited those states that had not yet done so to sign and ratify as fast as possible a framework agreement on trade preferences among OIC members so they could "enter discussions" on the creation of a free trade zone "in the near future".

  

The aim of the agreement, ratified by some 10 members, is a progressive reduction in customs duties in signatory states.

  

During the opening ceremony Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer lamented the fact that "OIC member-states account for 22% of the world's population but only 5% of the world's gross national product and 8% of international trade".

  

"These figures underline the need of member states ... to engage in more intensive cooperation," he said.