Maritime security key dimension of bilateral ties: Swaraj

Maritime security key dimension of bilateral ties: Swaraj

Describing maritime security as a key dimension of its bilateral ties with Indian Ocean rim countries, India today said it values its trilateral maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka and Maldives and was trying to expand it to include others.

"Maritime security is an important dimension of India's bilateral relations with Indian Ocean Littoral states and through various formal and informal structures currently in place," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said here.

Swaraj was speaking after inaugurating an International Conference on "India and Indian Ocean: Renewing the Maritime Trade and Civilisational linkages."

"We value our trilateral maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka and Maldives. We are exploring possibilities of expanding it to include others in the Indian Ocean Region in particular Seychelles and Mauritius," she said.

The External Affair Minister said Indian Navy has been playing an important role in this through increased bilateral /multilateral maritime exercises including MILAN which saw participation from 17 regional navies off the Andaman Coast in February 2014.

India looks forward to building closer cooperation in maritime domain, regularise bilateral maritime exercises and strengthen dialogues between the navies and Coast Guards with all littoral countries in the Indian Ocean Region, she said.

India is part of various multilateral institutions, which are actively debating maritime security issues in the Asia Pacific region, Swaraj said, adding that Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which India founded in 2008, has 35 countries participating in its various activities.

"The effort has gathered momentum and deepened mutual understanding on maritime challenges and has strengthened our collective ability to address them," she said.

As a founder member of the Contact Group on Piracy, India has been sensitive to the maritime security situation in the Gulf of Aden for shipping lanes in this part of the Indian Ocean, Swaraj said adding India has been working with like-minded countries to preserve the integrity, inviolability and security of maritime domain which is a global commons.

"We are committed to maritime security, freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law," she said.

The Minister, however, lamented that full potential of intra-regional trade remains untapped because of poor communication and transport links, lack of information about the supply capabilities, among other barriers.

"The ports in most part of the region need to be modernised and equipped with multi-modal transport. Customs and clearance procedures at borders need to be streamlined," Swaraj said, adding that intra-regional investment is still negligible despite tremendous potential.
"Deepening of regional economic integration may help in exploiting this hidden potential of intra-regional cooperation for mutual benefit."

Addressing the meet, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said "we have the opportunity to reclaim our trade and cultural relations with nations in the Indian Ocean region. Therefore, we must develop a comprehensive geo-strategic policy that promotes mutually beneficial engagements on an umbrella of issues relating to trade, culture, security and environment."

Noting that Indian Ocean carries half of world’s container shipments, one-third of bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of oil shipments, Swaraj said 90 per cent of our trade by volume and 90 per cent of oil imports take place through sea.

"The vast Indian Ocean region hosts over 40 states and nearly 40 per cent of world population," she said, adding that the region -- which extends from African coast to West Asia, South Asia and South East Asia and touches Australia -- has been a focus of India's foreign policy.

Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to countries of the region, Swaraj said, "we call this Indian Ocean outreach as 'SAGAR'. As Prime Minister said in Mauritius last week, we seek a future for Indian Ocean that lives up to the name of SAGAR- Security and Growth for All in the Region."

Stating that India's vision for Indian Ocean Region is built on fostering cooperation and assisting our maritime neighbours and island states in building their maritime security capabilities, she said, "We believe that we will prosper when the seas are safe, secure and free for all. We, therefore, have advocated collective action and cooperation. Those who live in this region have the primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean."

Noting that Indian Ocean has acquired new salience with the shift of global economic engines to Asia, Swaraj said there has been sustained economic growth in the countries on the littoral of the Indian Ocean and growing global stakes and presence in the region is foreseen.
At the same time the region is witnessing non-traditional threats such as natural disasters, piracy, terrorism, illegal fishing, oil spills and effects of climate change, the External Affair minister said.

Stressing on a more cooperative and integrated future for the region through overall development of the ocean or blue economy, she said, this would promote increased cooperation in trade, tourism and investment, infrastructure development, marine science and technology, sustainable fisheries and protection of marine environment.

"Through greater collaboration, we look forward to increasing our understanding of marine ecology and resources and improving our abilities to harness new possibilities offered by Indian Ocean in a sustainable way," she said.

In this connection the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IORARC), which is now known as Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) formed in 1997, by Australia, India, Mauritius, Oman, Singapore and South Africa provides an ideal platform.

However, unfortunately launching of IORA coincided with the 'Asian Crisis' in 1997, when economically vibrant economies within the region, particularly countries in the East and South-East, were subject to severe economic turmoil, and failed to provide adequate support to the new regional initiative, Swaraj said.

Significant economic and financial challenges including those flowing from the global economic and financial crisis of 2007 notwithstanding, the members of IORA remained steadfast in their efforts aimed at further consolidating the Association, the minister said.

Swaraj recalled that at the 11th meeting of IORA Council of Ministers that took place under India's Chairmanship in Bengaluru in November 2011, members were unanimous in their approach to identify six priority areas for cooperation - (i)Maritime Safety and Security (ii) Trade and Investment Facilitation (iii) Fisheries Management (iv) Disaster Risk Reduction (v) Academic and S&T Cooperation and (vi) Tourism Promotion and Cultural Exchanges.

Stating that visibility of the grouping has increased in recent years with the initiation of several new activities in different cooperation mechanisms under IORA, she said member countries have shown renewed interest in participating and also in launching number of programmes to coordinate between regional economies in diverse range of areas including capacity building, scholarships programmes, among others.

Swaraj said, on economic front, IORA exhibited significant dynamism in the past few years.
"The region experienced steady growth in global and intra-regional trade since 2003. Global trade expanded by 3.5 times from USD 1,224 billion in 2003 to USD 4,232 billion in 2012 whereas intra-regional trade increased by more than four times from USD 302 billion to USD 1,230 billion over the same period," she said.

Besides goods, the region witnessed a significant rise in services trade. The region as a whole was found competitive in services sectors such as telecommunications, computer and information services and transport and travel.

"The existing trade potential can be further tapped through sectoral cooperation initiatives. The emerging sectors that present immense potential for trade expansion and regional integration include food processing, fisheries, tourism, environmentally sensitive goods, information technology, SMEs, regional value chain, and so on," she said.

"Time has come that countries in the region consider evolving a common regional standard to promote intra-regional trade. Some mechanisms need to be evolved to address the challenges and hindrances in the way of trade growth to ensure that intra-regional trade becomes significant to make the overall economic performance of IORA vibrant," Swaraj said.

She said IORA provides an effective multilateral platform that facilitates realisation of untapped opportunities for prosperity, peace and development of the region. The growing number of membership and the number of Dialogue Partners is a testimony of growing salience of the Indian Ocean and IORA as the apex body in the Region.

"It gives me satisfaction to note that IORA members are taking a number of initiatives to address the challenges in the way of further deepening of trade and economic ties amongst themselves," the minister said.

The three-day conference, organised by Institute of Social and Cultural Studies jointly with Research and Information System for Developing Countries, is supported by External Affairs, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Power, Shipping, Commerce and Industry, Culture, Tourism and Agriculture ministries.
Delegates from 20 countries are participating in the meet slated to conclude on March 22.

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