A 15-year-old grouping of 19 littoral countries of the Indian Ocean has sought to energise itself by admitting the U.S. as a dialogue partner, identifying maritime security as its main priority and looking for a name easier on the tongue.
Admitting that the grouping’s name, Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), was cumbersome, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said a change of name was on the cards and the legal position in this respect was being examined.
Addressing a ministerial meeting of the grouping in Gurgaon on Friday, the Minister expressed the hope that addition of the U.S. as a dialogue partner (along with admission of Cameroon as the 20th member), achieved by consensus though Iran is an active full member, would “add value to the discussions and deliberations.”
But that left China, already a dialogue partner, “certainly” hoping for an upgrade to full member status.
“If it is given, why not,” said a Chinese diplomatic source. France, Egypt, Japan and Britain are the other observers along with the U.S. The Gurgaon declaration adopted at the end of the meeting said the grouping’s membership was open to “all sovereign States” of the Indian Ocean rim that adhered to the principles and objectives of its Charter.
Mr. Khurshid was confident that the Gurgaon meeting could be the turning point as it saw a “convergence of aspirations” and the “right chemistry” among the participants.
Besides deliberating on maritime security and ensuring that “some of the world’s busiest sea lanes are kept safe for global trade,” the Ministers resolved to promote trade and investment by harmonising customs procedures among the members.
The Gurgaon Declaration noted that at the last meeting in Bangalore a year ago, the IOR-ARC identified six priority areas for cooperation: maritime security and piracy, disaster risk reduction, trade & investment facilitation, fisheries management, academic and S&T cooperation, and tourism and cultural exchanges. This helped bring greater focus on the Association’s work with several cooperation initiatives having been taken in each of these priority areas.
Underlining the Association’s importance, the declaration pointed out that the Indian Ocean’s stability and well-being were critical for global economic prosperity. “We are convinced that we can augment our capacities to deal with our common challenges in a more effective manner by forging enduring partnerships amongst ourselves. We support closer interaction between our Association and regional organisations in the Indian Ocean, such as the African Union,” it said.