The region has huge untapped economic potential, says Mauritius Minister

Countries of the Indian Ocean region will come together on Thursday in picturesque Mauritius for their first-ever meeting aimed at exploring possibilities for trade and economic cooperation.

Minister for Commerce and Industries Anand Sharma will lead the Indian delegation at the Economic and Business Conference of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IORARC).

The Indian delegation includes a business contingent led by Ficci head Naina Lal Kidwai.

India, which is in the chair of IORARC, is co-hosting the event, the first of its kind for the group, along with Mauritius, where the association has its headquarters.

“The IORARC has huge untapped economic potential which can be effectively implemented through trade and commerce for economic development of the Indian Ocean region,” said Arvin Boollel, Mauritius Minister for Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade.

Economic cooperation offered “several low-hanging fruit” that could be harvested for the good of the entire region, the Minister said at a press conference ahead of the two-day meet.

Cader Sayed Hossen, the country’s Commerce Minister, summed up the objectives of the conference thus: to improve the ease of doing business among countries of the Indian Ocean region; towards this, to share information about business, trade and investment opportunities; to improve institutional links between government and private agencies overseeing trade and commerce so that interaction among business communities of the region could be better organised.

The IORARC boasts 20 members, of which India and Australia have the largest economies. The region represents one-third of the world’s population, and the world has huge stakes in its combined economy, but, said Mr. Hossen, “intra-IOR trade is only 20 per cent of the total trade of member-countries, and business linkages within the region are at a low level.”

Inspired by a suggestion from South African leader Nelson Mandela during his 1995 presidential visit to India, the IORARC was founded in 1997. But a lack of funds and member interest crippled it, and though its foreign ministers have met annually, it was all but given up as an idea until India took the chair in 2011, and revived it with an infusion of $1 million.

Geostrategic importance

Interest in the IORARC also increased with the recognition of the region’s geostrategic importance.

Through it pass some of the most important energy transport routes from West Asia to South-East and East Asia and securing these routes has become a global priority. In recent years, the United States, Britain, France, China, Japan and Egypt have become “dialogue partners” of the IORARC. China even gives financial assistance to the association; all these countries are sending representatives to the conference this week. Japan is sending a minister to represent it.

Within the IORARC too, there is increased competition for the resources of the Indian Ocean, as well as realisation of the urgency of joining hands to protect these resources. Climate change and its impact on the ocean is also an issue which is bringing the IORARC members closer.

The possibilities for economic cooperation are also gaining traction. This is the first time that aside from the trade ministers, the IORARC is bringing together business communities of member-countries. The conference will focus on cooperation in agro-industry, fisheries and other marine resources, tourism, shipping, and investment opportunities.