Islamic trade finance differs from the conventional trade finance system in a few significant ways. Islamic trade finance allows practitioners to finance trade transactions on either of the two models—credit or participation. The most important distinction is compliance with the Shari'a, a set of laws based on the Quran. These rules forbid the payment of interest on the credit extended, also known as riba. Considering that interest payment is one of the main attractions of lending, Shari’a limits the possibility of a common interest levied on transactions involving different countries. Consequently, each deal under the purview of Islamic trade finance must be approved by a board of scholars which offers an alternative to riba to facilitate such lending.
Considering the imperative role trade financing plays in global growth and development and the number of countries with a vast Muslim population, Islamic banking and finance activities have tremendous potential to bolster the world economy. Accordingly, some international standards have been developed to ensure that Islamic trade finance can contribute to the global economy while adhering to the laws of the Quran.
The Islamic trade finance ecosystem consists of a number of financial products and solutions that embrace the tenets of the Islamic holy book. The most frequently accessed instruments include contracts based on Murabahah, Musharakah, Wakalah, and Kafalah.
Murabahah – In a Murabahah transaction, an Islamic bank can purchase goods or property as per the requirements of a customer and then sell at a mark-up profit. This is not an interest transaction, and neither is the bank extending a loan to the customer. It is simply the selling of goods to the customer with profit. The customer is given an option either to pay in one lump sum or by installments.
Musharakah – Musharakah is a method that allows one to collect large amounts of capital to do business. In a Musharakah transaction, two or more individuals provide the capital for business, and they share the profit or loss. However, it is not necessary that all partners should participate directly in managing the business. Contracts following this technique are mostly used for import and export businesses.
Wakalah – In a Wakalah contract, an Islamic bank acts as an intermediary for clients rather than as a direct participant in transactions. The bank is paid a pre-arranged fee or commission for its services instead of interest earned on the corpus. In this scenario, the customer must provide the bank with a deposit covering the total value of the traded goods.
Kafalah – Kafalah works as a security for a loan or credit given to a person or a business enterprise. Such a contract is mostly leveraged for facilitating trade. It functions as a security for loans or credit extended to an individual or a business enterprise.
Major banks such as Maybank Group Islamic Banking and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), part of the Islamic Development Bank Group, conduct their business in accordance with the Islamic trade finance norms. Maybank Islamic leads the domestic markets in Muslim countries such as Malaysia and offers Islamic financial services in the ASEAN region. It offers services in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, London, and Labuan as well. The ITFC was founded to advance trade among member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and is rated A1 by Moody's Investors Service, attesting to its integrity and creditworthiness.
Since the Islamic banking and trade finance ecosystem strives for justice, transparency, inclusivity, and morality through its practices, the model is set to gain clout on a global platform. *Reports suggest that the industry—worth about $200 billion in 2003—is likely to touch the $4 trillion mark in the next decade, demonstrating its meteoric rise in the financial ecosystem. Islamic trade finance is stepping up to revitalize trade and unlock new opportunities in the years ahead with its secular nature and the willingness to offer services to customers across religious leanings.
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