As global economic power shifts to the east, maintaining prosperity and stability across the diverse Indian Ocean region has become imperative.

The 13th meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) was held on November 1 in Perth, Australia’s Indian Ocean capital. At this meeting, Australia took over as Chair of the Association from India, which has been Chair since 2011. Indonesia became the new Vice-Chair. We agreed on a new name for our Association — the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) — and charted out directions for the further development of our cooperation.

Strategic

The Indian Ocean covers about 20 per cent of water on the world’s surface. It is the third largest of the world’s five oceans. The Indian Ocean Rim countries have a population of approximately 2.6 billion, or 39 per cent of the world’s people. The Indian Ocean accounts for 50 per cent of the world’s container traffic and Indian Ocean ports handle about 30 per cent of global trade. Around 66 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits the Indian Ocean. Roughly 55 per cent of known oil reserves, and around 40 per cent of gas reserves, are in the Indian Ocean region.

Reflecting diversity

These are important and impressive statistics. They are in part the reason why the nations of this region are members of IORA. At this meeting, Australia took over as Chair of the organisation for the first time in its 18-year history, succeeding India. Indonesia became the new Vice-Chair.

IORA consists of 20 member-states. They reflect the remarkable diversity of our Indian Ocean region. They range from small island-countries, such as Comoros and Seychelles, to G20 members such as India, Indonesia and Australia. What unite this remarkable diversity are the common bond of an ocean and a common commitment to the prosperity and sustainable economic growth of the region.

As global economic power increasingly shifts to the east, maintaining prosperity and stability across the Indian Ocean region becomes more important than ever.

At Bangalore in 2011, the Association agreed on six priority areas: maritime safety and security; trade and investment facilitation; fisheries management; disaster preparedness; academic, science and technology cooperation; tourism and cultural exchange. In Gurgaon in 2012, we set out the broad contours of our Association’s agenda for the next decade. During our meeting on November 1, IORA members committed to a range of initiatives to further develop cooperation in each of our priority areas. Member-states believe that by focussing on these key areas, IORA can make a genuine contribution to the peaceful, productive and sustainable development of the Indian Ocean region.

Challenges

The member-states are also linked by common challenges — the need to keep shipping lanes open, keep fishery stocks viable, forecast and tackle disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and promote trade, education and tourism links across the region. With the combined population of the 36 countries surrounding the Indian Ocean forecast to rise to 3.2 billion by 2030, these challenges can only be expected to exacerbate.

Women’s empowerment

We must work hard together to ensure that the people of the Indian Ocean region have access to the best possible levels of education. The empowerment of women and girls in the region will be a high priority for IORA. During Australia’s chairing of the organisation, the Ambassador for Women and Girls will have an important role in this. We must ensure that, especially for those countries which rely heavily on the resources of the sea, that there are sustainable fisheries management practices in place. The tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean produce about one-third of the world’s tuna — half of it caught by small-scale vessels in the waters of the coastal states.

Piracy

The common threat of piracy poses a considerable challenge to IORA’s objectives. It was notable during our meeting how many member-states reflected on the impact of piracy in our region. The World Bank estimates that piracy costs the global economy around (U.S.) $18 billion a year in increased trade costs — an amount that dwarfs the estimated $53 million average annual ransom paid. IORA members are integral players in counter-piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean. In addition to combating piracy, there are the challenges of ensuring maritime security and maritime safety across the region and preparing ourselves against the all too tragic consequences of natural disasters.

We are proud as foreign ministers of India, Australia and Indonesia, to have joined our colleagues from the 20 member-states and six dialogue partner countries to have declared our support for the Perth Principles for peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Ocean and its resources.

These principles recognise the importance of the Indian Ocean’s diversity, including its marine life and ecosystems. They reflect our commitment to the conservation and sustainable use of its fisheries stocks, water and seabed resources, and other marine life. We recognise the important contribution this will make to eradicating poverty, creating sustainable livelihoods and decent work around the region, while helping to sustain economic growth and food security.

India, Australia and Indonesia are committed to working with our fellow IORA members to harness the diverse strengths of our region. We are confident that Indian Ocean regional cooperation is entering a significant, and indeed exciting, new phase. The commitment of member-states during our meeting, reflected in the attendance of foreign ministers from Australia, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Yemen is perhaps the most significant demonstration of recognition that in the 21st century, the Indian Ocean region will play a vital strategic and economic role.

(Salman Khurshid is India’s External Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, the Australian Foreign Minister, and Marty Natalegawa, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia.)

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