Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA): Objectives, Members and Areas of Priority

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Indian Ocean Rim Association

The recent meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association’s Council of Ministers was conducted under the theme of ‘Strengthening the Identity of the Indian Ocean’.

What is the Indian Ocean Rim Association’s Council of Ministers (COM) meeting?

  • The Council of Ministers Meeting (COM) is an annual gathering where foreign Ministers from the Member States convene to discuss and make decisions regarding IORA’s priorities.
  • In alignment with this, the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO), composed of senior officials from Foreign Affairs, holds two meetings each year. The decisions made by the CSO are subsequently presented to the COM for final approval. It’s important to highlight that the COM and CSO serve as the central governing bodies of IORA.

What is the Indian Ocean Rim Association?

  • The Indian Ocean Rim Association is an intergovernmental organisation established on March 7, 1997.
  • It aims to promote regional cooperation and development among countries bordering the Indian Ocean and those with a significant interest in the region.
  • It fosters collaboration in various areas, including economic and trade cooperation, maritime safety, cultural exchange, and disaster risk management, among others, to enhance the well-being and prosperity of member states in the Indian Ocean region.

Secretariat of the Indian Ocean Rim Association

  • The Secretariat of the Indian Ocean Rim Association is situated in Cyber City, Ebène, Mauritius, and it is hosted by the Government of the Republic of Mauritius. 
  • This Secretariat plays a vital role in managing, coordinating, servicing, and overseeing the implementation of policy decisions, work programs, and projects that are adopted by the Council of Ministers within the body.

What Countries are Part of the Indian Ocean Rim Association?

The organisation has 23 members as follows: 

  1. Commonwealth of Australia, 
  2. People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 
  3. Union of Comoros, 
  4. French Republic, 
  5. Republic of India, 
  6. Republic of Indonesia, 
  7. Islamic Republic of Iran, 
  8. Republic of Kenya, 
  9. Republic of Madagascar, 
  10. Malaysia, 
  11. Republic of Maldives, 
  12. Republic of Mauritius, 
  13. Republic of Mozambique, 
  14. Sultanate of Oman, 
  15. Republic of Seychelles, 
  16. Republic of Singapore, 
  17. Federal Republic of Somalia, 
  18. Republic of South Africa, 
  19. Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 
  20. United Republic of Tanzania, Kingdom of Thailand, 
  21. United Arab Emirates and 
  22. Republic of Yemen.
  23. France

Structure of the Indian Ocean Rim Association

  • Council of Foreign Ministers (COM): The highest governing body of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is the Council of Foreign Ministers (COM), which convenes on an annual basis.
    • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) held the position of Chair from November 2019 to November 2021, followed by the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, which assumed the role from November 2021 to November 2023.
  • Committee of Senior Officials (CSO): It meets twice a year to advance IORA’s agenda. During these meetings, the CSO reviews recommendations from Working Groups and forums involving officials, businesses, and academics. These recommendations are then used to shape policies and initiatives aimed at enhancing the well-being of people within the member states of the Indian Ocean.

What are the Six Priority Areas of Indian Ocean Rim Association?

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) focuses on a range of areas to promote cooperation and development among its member states. The primary focus areas include:

Maritime Safety and Security (MSS)

  • Enhancing safety and security in the Indian Ocean, which is vital for safe navigation, trade, and environmental protection.
  • MSS was assigned in 2011 by IORA as the top priority area of focus.
  • The ‘IORA Working Group on MSS’, also known as the WGMSS, established in 2018 is currently advancing the IORA Action Plan (2017-21) with Member States developing a regional agenda through a ‘MSS Work Plan’.
  • Formation of Indian Ocean Dialogue to discuss pertinent issues including MSS.

Trade and Investment Facilitation

  • Working to reduce trade barriers, enhance business environments, and promote investment in the region.
  • Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum (IORBF) of IORA shall be injecting business perspectives for the Indian Ocean region. 

Fisheries Management 

  • IORA Fisheries Support Unit leads and manages the efforts of IORA efforts in identifying issues related to fisheries.

Disaster Risk Management 

  • Collaborating on disaster preparedness and response to mitigate the impact of natural disasters in the region.

Tourism and Cultural Exchanges

  • The Jakarta Concord adopted in 2017 commits to fostering tourism and cultural exchanges.

Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation

  • The Jakarta Concord which has been adopted by the IORA Heads of State and Government had committed to strengthen academic and technological cooperation.

Blue Economy

  • Exploring sustainable and responsible use of marine resources, including fisheries and aquaculture, to support economic growth.

Women’s Economic Empowerment

  • At the 13th Council of Ministers Meeting in Perth, Australia on November 1, 2013, IORA made a significant commitment to gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, designating it as a special focus area.

Importance of the Indian Ocean

  • Geographic Location: Geographically, it holds a strategic position as it is situated at the nexus of global trade routes, linking the primary powerhouses of the world economy in the Northern Atlantic and the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Sea Trade Lanes: The Indian Ocean, as the third-largest ocean interwoven with vital trade routes, wields significant influence over major sea-lanes that carry 50% of the world’s container ships, one-third of global bulk cargo traffic, and two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments. It remains a crucial lifeline for international trade and transportation.
  • Population along the Coastlines: It is home to nearly 2.7 billion people, the Member States with coastlines along this ocean exhibit remarkable cultural diversity, boasting a wealth of languages, religions, traditions, arts, and cuisines. Despite this diversity and disparities, they share a common connection through their association with the Indian Ocean.
  • Resource Rich Region: The Indian Ocean is a valuable reservoir of fishing and mineral resources. It houses significant mineral resources, including nodules rich in nickel, cobalt, and iron, as well as substantial sulphide deposits of manganese, copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold on the ocean floor.

Indian Initiatives in the Indian Ocean

India has undertaken various strategic initiatives in the Indian Ocean region to enhance regional cooperation, security, trade, and overall stability. Some of these initiatives are as follows:

  • SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region): The SAGAR doctrine emphasises a holistic approach to security and growth in the Indian Ocean region. It aims to enhance maritime security, promote trade, and support the development of littoral states.
  • Project Mausam: It seeks to re-establish historic maritime and cultural links with countries in the Indian Ocean region. It promotes cooperation in archaeology, historical research, and cultural exchange.
  • Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS): IONS is a forum for naval cooperation among the Indian Ocean littoral states. India plays a pivotal role in this initiative, which aims to enhance maritime security and cooperation in the region.
  • ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Cooperation: India has been working closely with the ASEAN countries to enhance maritime transport links and connectivity in the Indian Ocean region, promoting trade and economic cooperation.

Way Forward 

To advance the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), member states should intensify efforts to bolster maritime security, promote economic collaboration, and emphasise sustainable development and environmental conservation.

Furthermore, IORA should evolve as an influential forum for resolving regional conflicts, engage with external partners, and adapt its strategies to address evolving regional challenges and opportunities. 

Source: IORA

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