The emerging dynamics of international diplomacy has meant that India has recently begun to take note of managing the oceans, especially the Indian Ocean, more seriously. The participation of close to half-a-dozen cabinet ministers from the central government at an international seminar organised recently in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha (International Conference on India and Indian Ocean Renewing the Maritime Trade and Civilization Linkages 20-22 March 2015) is indication of this.
Indian Ocean Rim Countries Cooperation
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was established in March 1997 with a mandate to promote sustainable growth and balanced development in the region. The IORA with 20 member States and six observer States is one of the most important regional platforms to carry forward the interests of member states to cooperate on development in the region.
Historically, IORA focused on issues of maritime security, trade, cultural promotion, tourism and fisheries. However, in recent years, new and emerging issues for the better management and governance of Indian Ocean resources have begun taking shape. Such issues include blue economy development and sectoral integration.
It was thus heartening to see that during the international conference there was a focused discussion on these topics. At the close of the Conference, the ‘Bhubaneshwar Declaration’ was adopted, which identifies a series of priority actions for both India and IORA. The recommendations include the establishment of a sub-committee to deal with non-tariff barriers (NTBs) for trade and investment, supporting green investment, establishing an IORA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, prioritising work on blue economy, establishing a joint committee on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), and enhancing marine resource management including benefit sharing, among others.
A few opportunities emerge that countries in the region must focus on.
Governing the seas
There is increasing evidence that countries with better technical capacities can better harvest, prospect and make economic largesse from ocean resources—mainly natural resources. This has raised the concerns of many experts working on sustainable management of high seas where activities continue to happen without any governance mechanism.
Only 10 countries globally account for 90 per cent of patents related to marine genetic resources according to an article published in Science in 2011.
The ‘Global Commons’ approach to using marine resources, especially in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), with no oversight on issues of governance, access and benefit sharing, necessitate urgent interventions to develop appropriate governance frameworks by countries.
Responding to this concern, the United Nations established a Working Group on Biodiversity to make recommendations to the General Assembly. After discussions, the Working Group, in January 2015, recommended the UN to negotiate an international, legally-binding instrument to be concluded within the framework of UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). This negotiation will focus on issues of marine genetic resource governance including issues of access to genetic resources and benefit sharing (ABS).
IORA member countries need to develop strategic inputs into the intergovernmental negotiation process under the UN to safeguard the governance and benefit sharing mechanism in Indian Ocean region.
In 2010, 193 countries that are Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to work on designating biologically and ecologically sensitive areas both in marine areas within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and high seas.
The Indian Ocean region is rich in marine resources and it is critically important to identify such areas and develop appropriate sub-regional and regional management practices to sustainably manage and use the resources. Studies on species such as bluefin tuna indicate the need for regional approaches to species management.
Maritime security issues need to receive attention not only on traditional elements of passage, patrolling and others but also issues related to resource management.
The blue economy
The economic potential as well as realising the benefits from coastal and marine resources constitutes the focus of blue economy debates and policies.
A consortium of UN agencies in preparation for the World Conference of Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) outlined priorities under the title ‘A Green Economy in Blue World’. In a concept note prepared on Blue Economy, it highlighted that oceans provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihood, as well as transportation for 80 per cent of global trade. The seabed currently provides 32 per cent of the global supply of hydrocarbons, with exploration expanding. New technologies are opening frontiers of marine resource development from bio-prospecting to mining of seabed mineral resources. The sea also offers vast potential for renewable “blue energy” production from wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass sources.
Seychelles became one of the first countries in the world to create a Department of Blue Economy, with a minister to oversee its role.
First, establish an expert committee of legal and policy experts from member countries to prepare inputs for the legally binding multilateral agreement that is being currently negotiated under the UN. The expert committee should undertake a quick review and assessment of governance regimes in the Indian Ocean region, considering issues of resource access and use both within the EEZs and the in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Second, identify options and areas for designating as special ecologically and biologically sensitive areas to ensure such areas receive additional protection and sustainable management provisions.
Third, IORA needs to consider a special regional cooperation programme on Blue Economy. This programme should not only tap the potential of oceans and marine areas for economic development of member states but also consider focusing on contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that are currently being negotiated under the UN General Assembly that includes a Goal on Oceans and resource management.
Fourth, IORA member states should develop regional and sub-regional climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and build the capacities and resilience of people dependent on the oceans for livelihoods.
India along with IORA could transform the region, and instead of focusing just on Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), as envisioned by Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Mauritius, could focus instead on Sustainability and Growth for All in the Region.
(Balakrishna Pisupati is Senior Adjunct Fellow at Research Information Systems for Developing Countries, New Delhi.)