At the 19th IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) meet in Abu Dhabi Maritime Safety and Security, Trade and Investment Facilitation and Tourism and Cultural Exchange are the focus areas and also Blue Economy and Women's Economic Empowerment. `Promoting a Shared Destiny and Path to Prosperity in the Indian Ocean’ is the theme this year.
Accompanied by a strong official delegation, Minister of State in the External Affairs Ministry V Muraleedharan is representing India at the conference and has had discussions with the Indian Ocean littoral states seeking deeper relations in maritime and regional security.
India and IORA
From India's point of view, the meeting in Abu Dhabi is very critical as to of its most important partners in the IORA –UAE and Bangladesh took over as the new chair and vice-chair for two years 2019-21. Through the strategic shipping lane between Strait of Hormuz, Persian/ Arabian Gulf Region India's own energy requirements come from there. According to Indian Navy officials, "almost 80 per cent of the country's energy requirements are met from seawards. And out of this around 55 per cent is sourced from the Persian Gulf region."
Outgoing South Africa, Bangladesh and UAE are going to form the new Troika of the IORA. And Bangladesh as the Vice Chairman of the regional organisation for two years and then assuming the chairmanship in 2021 is very significant as it gives Dhaka four continuous years to play a significant role.
Though the IORA is not India run, however, in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region), through its mission-based deployments, the Indian Navy has already been tagged as the first responder and has also been acknowledged as a security provider in the region of the Indian Ocean and beyond.
Captain DK Sharma (Retd), Ex-Spokesperson Indian Navy, says that "IORA is a region of opportunities and intangible threats too. India has already inked White Shipping Agreements with 20 countries. This is very important from the maritime security point of view. Also, the intangible threats like Tsunami, human trafficking and terrorism through water are a concern that all members of the IORA are keen to address."
"The IORA is very important for India and which is why efforts are constantly on to strengthen our relations with not only the littoral states but others too in the region."
As part of IORA's Blue Economy, India has been sharing skills to help IOR member states including Somalia, Oman, and others in the commercial fisheries sector.
Efforts are on to further deepen maritime relations with countries like countries including Maldives, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Bangladesh which has been part of India's information support structure.
As has been reported earlier, Fusion Centre located in NCR Gurugram has been set up to assist member countries of IOR with real-time crisis information.
IORA & UAE
The UAE which has taken over from South Africa as IORA Chairman, for a two year period running to 2021 has suggested that the member states work towards creating an IORA Development Fund, which has been the goal for a long time. This fund is expected to help in exploring the economic potential of the least developed countries of the Indian Ocean Rim. The UAE has urged all member states to contribute to design and implementing the fund with their expertise.
With almost 2.7 billion people living in countries bordering the ocean, according to IORA, half of the world's container ships, one-third of the world's bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of world oil shipments are carried through the maritime trade routes in the Indian Ocean.
IORA has 22 member nations and nine dialogue partners, shared interest in promoting prosperity, peace, and stability within the Indian Ocean region and economic and trade linkages keeps them together. The Maldives is the newest member which joined the IORA last year.